Author Leila Mottley, 19, says she thought she was joining a Zoom call with her editor and publicist to discuss the publication date of her new novel, "Nightcrawling." Little did she know that Oprah Winfrey would join the call to announce that her book had been chosen for Oprah's Book Club.
"This novel takes on some harrowing and really important things: poverty and injustice, corruption, prostitution, sex trafficking, all written by a woman who was 17 at the time, a young girl," Winfrey told "CBS Mornings" in a video. "And the writer describes the book as an ode to the precarious and vulnerable world of teenage Black girls and her extraordinary empathy and her gorgeous writing reminds us that, yes, she's also a poet."
Upon learning of Winfrey's selection on that Zoom call, Mottley became emotional. "It was surreal," she told "CBS Mornings" on Tuesday.
Mottley said she wrote the first chapter of "Nightcrawling," published by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, at 16 years old. The fictional work is based on a 2016which accused several Oakland, California police officers of sexual misconduct and exploitation of a young girl.
"The media seemed to focus more on the police department than on the harm done to this girl and the thousands of other girls and women that this happens to, and we never get to hear it in a courtroom or a newspaper," said Mottley, who was born and raised in Oakland.
She said that while writing and immersing herself within the world of the character, she learned "that it was okay to be vulnerable, to be fragile, to be soft, to grieve."
"I think often the world forces Black and brown girls to care for others and to neglect our own vulnerability, and so I wanted this book to really show the ways that we can be fragile and how the world doesn't protect us," Mottley said. "I wanted to center that because I think a lot of stories just don't."
Mottley, who began writing at the age of 5, said she hopes her new book "is either a mirror or window."
"Whether you see yourself reflected back to you through this book or whether it's not something you've experienced but it expands your idea of our world and our country," she said. "I hope that more people think about the ways that we're complicit in the harm of Black and brown girls and allow more Black girls to get to be kids and to experience ourselves as more than what the world expects of us."
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