Early life and education
Leilani grew up in a family of artists in the Bronx before they moved to a suburb of Albany, New York. She grew up as a Seventh-day Adventist, and later left the church. Having attended an art high school, Leilani expected to become a visual artist. She graduated college in 2012, where she studied English and psychology.
Her first job was as an imaging specialist at Ancestry.com. Later, she worked at a scientific journal, for the US Department of Defense, and as a delivery person for Postmates in Washington, D.C. She also worked as an archivist at Macmillan. In 2017, she began pursuing her MFA at New York University, where she studied under Zadie Smith and with writers Katie Kitamura, and Jonathan Safran Foer. She now lives in Brooklyn.
Leilani's debut novel Luster received significant attention at its publishing. The book's publisher, Farrar, Straus and Giroux named the book its novel of August 2020 as part of their "Dare to Imagine" campaign. It is also part of Marie Claire's book club and has been lauded by outlets including Elle, the HuffPost, BuzzFeed News, the New York Times. It has been praised by Carmen Maria Machado, Brit Bennett, Angela Flournoy, and Zadie Smith. Kirkus Reviews awarded Luster the 2020 Kirkus Prize for Fiction. Luster was also awarded the 2020 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize.
Leilani's writing is influenced by her background as a visual artist, her life experiences, poetry, and a love of comic books and music. She has written for publications like Esquire, The Cut, and Vogue.
- Sanchez, Brandon (October 2, 2020). "The startling debut of Raven Leilani". America Magazine. Retrieved October 28, 2020.
- de León, Concepción (July 31, 2020). "Raven Leilani, a Flâneur Who Is Going Places". New York Times.
- Obaro, Tomi (August 4, 2020). "If You Like "Normal People," You'll Love "Luster"". BuzzFeed News.
- Varno, David (July 10, 2020). "Writers to Watch Fall 2020". Publisher's Weekly.
- Epstein, Rachel (July 29, 2020). "'Luster' Is Marie Claire's August Book Club Pick". Marie Claire.
- Fequiere, Roxanne (August 5, 2020). "Raven Leilani Is Your New Favorite Novelist". Elle.
- Smith, Zadie (August 4, 2020). "Zadie Smith on Her Former Student Raven Leilani's Debut Novel". Harpers Bazaar.
- "2020 Kirkus Prize". Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved January 23, 2021.
- "Raven Leilani Wins the 2020 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize". The Center for Fiction. Retrieved March 2, 2021.
- Leilani, Raven (July 23, 2020). "When I Left My Faith, I Went to Comic Con". Esquire.
- Leilani, Raven (August 3, 2020). "Luster (excerpt)". The Cut. Retrieved August 27, 2020.
- Leilani, Raven (August 4, 2020). "Turning My Back on the Faith that Saved Me". Vogue.
- Leilani, Raven (2019). "Hard Water". Cosmonauts Avenue. Archived from the original on August 10, 2020.
- Leilani, Raven (January 20, 2020). "Breathing Exercise". Wiley Online Library.