Mariam Pirbhai is a creative writer and academic. Mariam was born in Pakistan and lived in England, the United Arab Emirates and the Philippines before her family immigrated to Canada in the late 1980s.
Mariam’s first collection of short stories, Outside People and Other Stories, (Inanna, 2017), won the International Publisher’s (IPPY) and AmericanBookFest awards in the categories of Multicultural Fiction and the Short Story, respectively. Her second work of fiction, a novel titled Isolated Incident (Mawenzi House, 2022), will be released this coming fall. Isolated Incident has earned advance praise in Canada and abroad: Toronto-based author Carrianne Leung describes the work as an “intimate glimpse into the lives of Muslims in the diaspora” during a period of “intensifying Islamophobia”; best-selling author Shauna Singh Baldwin describes the novel as “absorbing, earnest and beautifully written”; and Guggenheim fellow Myriam J.A. Chancy hails the work as a “must-read, urgent and topical.”
Mariam’s fiction is driven by the impulse to bring social justice issues to light, especially as they impact migrant and diasporic communities. Some common themes include ruptured cultural and familial ties; living in the social, economic or cultural margins; intersectionality and women’s rights; religion and race as markers of difference; and interethnic encounters and alliances. More recently, she has turned to nature writing, exploring similar issues of migration, outsidership and identity as they are shaped by land, place and environment. In fact, Mariam is currently at work on a book of creative nonfiction that explores the natural and suburban landscapes of southern Ontario from her unique perspective as a first-generation immigrant, for whom questions of settlement and belonging are as entangled in personal and political histories as they are enriched by the physical and emotional geographies of the lands left behind.
Mariam earned a Ph.D. in English literature in 2014, for which she won the Governor General’s Gold Medal, awarded to the doctoral graduate with the highest academic standing. She is Professor of English at Wilfrid Laurier University and the former president of the Canadian Association for Postcolonial Studies (CAPS, formerly CACLALS). As an academic she has dedicated her research and teaching to the study of the legacies of British imperialism, anticolonial resistance and decolonization, as well as global migration, transnational labour and diasporic identities in the colonial and postcolonial eras. She is the author of a scholarly monograph, Mythologies of Migration, Vocabularies of Indenture: The Novels of the South Asian Diaspora in Africa, the Caribbean, and Asia-Pacific (University of Toronto Press, 2009), and co-editor of a scholarly essay collection, Critical Perspectives on Indo-Caribbean Women’s Literature (Routledge, 2013), as well as the author of numerous chapters and articles on world literature, including writers Salman Rushdie, Shani Mootoo and Anita Rau Badami.
When she is afforded the luxury of time, Mariam continues to teach herself to paint—a hobby she picked up as a form of therapy later in life, but which quickly turned into an enduring passion. Like her writing, she doesn’t restrict herself to a single medium, always eager to experiment as a way of developing her skills and expanding her craft. She works in acrylics, oils and watercolour and uses her photographs, either taken on hikes around Ontario’s parks and conservation areas or on her many travels, as the basis of inspiration.