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Pitch Wars Team Interviews with Leila Mottley and her mentor, Samantha Rajaram

(This is an archived copy of an interview originally published here at

Samantha, why did you choose Leila?

Leila’s manuscript and her resilient, courageous protagonist captured me from the first sentence. She deftly created a main character whose intelligence and empathy felt both realistic and compelling, and the setting in Oakland, CA clinched it for me. Her poetic descriptions of the city captured its uniqueness and energy.

Leila, why did you choose to submit to Samantha?

Samantha’s research background in sex trafficking and law adds a layer of understanding of the novel’s premise and complexities that allows her to support me in handling it as both an individual story and a story impacted by the systemic forces around the protagonist. She is a historical fiction author and, while my manuscript isn’t historical fiction, I believe Samantha has a specific skill-set around timeline formation and plots that rely heavily on time and moving parts. These skills are essential to the work that I need to do to improve the manuscript.

Samantha, summarize Leila’s book in 3 words.

Survival, mothering, love

Leila, summarize your book in 3 words.

Girl erupts swimming

Samantha, tell us about yourself. Something we may not already know.

I owe my career to Oakland. Way back in the 1990s I worked in East Oakland as a literacy instructor for first graders through the AmeriCorps program. That experience inspired my work in education equity, which I pursued for a time in my work as a lawyer, and continue to strive for as an English professor. I’m still in touch with one of those first graders, who is now almost 30 years old!

Leila, what do you hope to get out of the Pitch Wars experience?

I’m hoping I will be able to revise my book so that it can live in the world and take up space with a narrative I think is needed. I want it to hold my characters and translate them in the most authentic way possible without sacrificing the plot. I’m hoping I learn a lot about the craft of revision and re-writing and collaborating on a project with Samantha, as well as just getting to connect in a love for writing.

Leila, tell us about yourself! What makes you and your manuscript unique?

I began my writing journey as a poet and am now primarily writing novels. I’ve self-published a poetry collection and have a deep appreciation for it as an art form and expressive tool. This manuscript is an examination of black girlhood and ownership of the self in circumstances that make autonomy difficult. My protagonist, Kiara, finds herself involved in an investigation into sexual abuse by the Oakland Police Department and must navigate how to maintain home and self when faced with bureaucracy and lack of agency. In the end, it’s a story about how she must come to terms with childhood and hold a deep love for her home even when it has violated her.