The 5 Books That Changed Leila Mottley’s Life


When Mottley writes, as a self-described obsessive, it’s hard for her to focus on anything else, turning her from an extrovert into a full recluse. “I have to become part of their world, really, to tell the story in the way that will do it justice, so I work really hard to sink into that, and to have it be an introspective experience.” It’s a world she loves. Leaving college to focus on the publication of Nightcrawling, in the two years since submitting her final draft, she has already embarked on two new projects – she is currently halfway through a first-person novel that explores similar themes, and a poetry collection. “Writing is like meditation for me. I can’t go that long without it.” 

Below, explore the five books that made her the wunderkind she is today.

Sula by Toni Morrison

It’s hard to choose a Toni Morrison book because they’re all uniquely life changing; anything she writes is profound, and the way in which she plays with language is always going to be masterful. But, I think that Sula is special in its construction around these two girls and what it means to love someone platonically. It does this beautiful thing about Black girlhood and friendship. And we don’t talk about friendship enough as a love story.

Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments by Saidiya Hartman

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Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments by Saidiya Hartman

Hartman reinvented nonfiction. She goes into the archive, finds these small moments and then builds them out to this beautiful blur between fiction and nonfiction. It’s amazing, I don’t know how she does it, but it has definitely changed the way I look at history and nonfiction as an art form. She is incredible.

Salvage The Bones by Jesmyn Ward

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Salvage The Bones by Jesmyn Ward

I love this book so much. It contains, I think, one of the most iconic ways to structure a text. It is about Hurricane Katrina, exploring the 10 or 12 days before. It starts with this image of the dog that the main character’s brother has giving birth. It’s just beautiful and sets the environment in an incredible way, really making us feel where they are, set on the Mississippi Delta. It’s beautiful.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

This is one I read a year ago and loved so much. It’s this deep dive into a world that we get a very limited view of, and his construction of the women in the book is just amazing. It’s nuanced and multi-dimensional and you get so invested. When I feel like I miss the characters after I put down a book, I always know it’s an incredible piece of work.

Bone Black: Memories of Girlhood by bell hooks

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Bone Black: Memories of Girlhood by bell hooks

Memoirs are one of the best genres; when it’s done well, it’s just so beautiful. It’s a memoir of girlhood, and she turns conventional images of white girlhood into a study of Black girlhood. There’s this part about the red wheelbarrow that her and her brother play with… It’s just a beautiful depiction of her childhood. The way she writes it is so lyrical; you can feel every moment.



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