(KRON) — The Bay Area is home to many literary giants, writers who break ground and make an impression around the world. And now there is a new addition to these ranks, a young Oakland woman who published her first novel and received major recognition for it from Oprah Winfrey — all by the time she turned 19. 

Meet Leila Mottley, the author of “Nightcrawling.”

Mottley just turned 20 in June, and she is already getting rave reviews for her debut novel “Nightcrawling.” She’s doing book readings around the country. The book is raw and innocent at the same time.

The book is set in her hometown of Oakland and the backdrop is a real-life police scandal.

“Nightcrawling” follows Kiara who is 17 we kind of follow here as she becomes involved with a network of police officers who sexually exploit her… the book follows the aftermath .. and explores black girlhood and vulnerability,” explains Mottley.

She is referencing a heavy, real-world subject. She was just 13 or 14 when the explosive Oakland Police scandal was unfolding.

The 2015 case involved officers from Oakland and a number of other Bay Area police departments having sex with a teen girl who was called Celeste Guap. The scandal led to firings, resignations, reprimands and more.                                                            

These are dark threads to explore in a debut novel. Nonetheless, Mottley says, her own love for Oakland is also key to the story.

“I wanted the ability for these characters and for Kiara in particular to show that she loves this city, she finds value in it. All the connections, all the love she has in her life is very much formed on this foundation on the streets of Oakland,” she explains.

Mottley says growing up, her dad liked to write and her mom liked to read. She learned to love both, poems, journals, stories all when she was young. She went to Oakland School for the Arts and became a part of the Oakland Youth Poet Laureate Program.

Then, at age 16, she won the title.

“Dear Oakland, I got off a plane… rolled my head cracked my neck and said honey I’m home……” Mottley said. “I didn’t even realized how special Oakland was until I did leave.”

“It allowed me this freedom to be my own person in a city that I think really does value art and freedom and exploration. I really loved growing up here,” she said.

She finished “Nightcrawling,” and while at Smith College, was finalizing publishing when she met her partner Mo Enriquez. Then, the pandemic hit, so, back home in the Bay Area, she got the ultimate surprise.

“Oprah book club selection, is this for real?” she asked herself.It was the most shocking day of my life, Ms. Winfrey holding my book.”

“Leila is an old soul,” her father Norris Motley said. “I can’t believe, she told me one day, said, I’m gonna write and finish this book. She went away to college. Next thing I know she was getting it published.”

“We all must be wondering how did so much wisdom get captured by someone at that age?” said event moderator, Margaret Wilkerson.

Readers acknowledge in “Nightcrawling” that Mottley writes like someone much older and she is already thinking about what’s next.  

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“I’m working on a poetry collection so kind of going back to my roots in poetry and then I’m working on another novel too,” she said.”It continues to explore themes of forgotten sidelined Black girls but in a very different way.”

This first major outing is dedicated to Oakland and its girls. “Nightcrawling” is already translated into French and German and is about to be translated for at least 12 other countries. Mottley has been to the UK and Paris on tour — with more to come. 

She recently appeared on Trevor Noah’s show, network morning shows, was written up in the New York Times and is still touring.

At her reading at historic City Lights Bookstore, SF Mechanics Institute, Peter Maravaelis said: “Just like City Lights welcomed a young Allen Ginsburg at the beginning of his career, so it welcomes Leila Mottley at the beginning of hers.”