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Raven Leilani

4:30 p.m. — Craft Talk, Multi-Purpose Room, Campus Center West 
7:30 p.m. — Reading / Q&A, Recital Hall, UAlbany Performing Arts Center

University at Albany

1400 Washington Avenue, Albany NY 12222
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Free and open to the public.

An emerging star of American fiction, Raven Leilani spent her young adulthood in Latham and attended Shaker High School. Winner of the National Book Critics Circle John Leonard Prize and the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize, Luster (2020), was an instant New York Times bestseller and “Notable Book of the Year.”

It tells the story of a young Black woman who becomes romantically involved with an older white man in an open marriage, and gets entangled in the complexities of his family life. Barack Obama named Luster one of his favorite books of 2020, and the New York Times reviewer said it “reads like summer: sentences like ice that crackle or melt into a languorous drip; plot suddenly, wildly flying forward like a bike down a hill."


Cosponsored by the English Department’s Creative Writing Program and Young Writers Program. 

An interview published in the UK Guardian

Raven Leilani is the author of Luster, a kinetic, award-winning debut novel whose fans include Barack Obama. Now published in paperback, it tells the story of Edie, a young black woman trying to find her way as a painter in New York City.

After getting fired from an entry-level publishing job and ground down by the gig economy, Edie moves in with her middle-aged white lover, his white wife, and their (adopted) black daughter in the suburbs. Cue a plethora of razor-sharp, caustically funny insights into the politics of race, gender and desire. Leilani, 31, spoke from her home in Brooklyn.

Raven Leilani. Photo credit Nina Subin
Canceled due to illness. The event may be rescheduled at a later date.
Tuesday, January 31, 2023

What inspired Luster?
I wrote it when I was in NYU’s MFA [creative writing] programme, which I’d come to with an entirely different novel. When my teachers asked me whether I had any real intention behind my project and I couldn’t articulate an answer, I started Luster. I wanted to write something that felt honest and urgent. Because I was trying to scrabble together pages, I wrote in a panic and edited myself emotionally less, so the work came from a more vulnerable place. And some of the most vulnerable subjects for me, I guess, are art and intimacy and failure. 

How much did you plot in advance?
I was flying by the seat of my pants. I knew I was going to write about painting and I absolutely knew that I was going to write about Edie’s experience in the middle of this open relationship, but the book kept changing as I was writing. It still feels crazy to admit this, but Edie was supposed to die.
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