Mariam Pirbhai is a creative writer and academic. She is the author of a short story collection titled Outside People and Other Stories, a novel titled Isolated Incident, and several academic works on the global South Asian diaspora. Mariam was born in Pakistan and lived in England, the United Arab Emirates and the Philippines before her family immigrated to Canada in 1987.

Mariam’s first collection of short stories Outside People and Other Stories was published by Inanna in 2017, and won the International Publisher’s (IPPY) and AmericanBookFest awards. She immediately dove headfirst into her second project, a novel titled Isolated Incident, soon to be published by Toronto-based Mawenzi House, in Fall 2022. And she is already at work on two new book projects: a book of creative nonfiction provisionally titled The Contrapuntal Gardener, scheduled for publication by Wolsak & Wynn in Fall 2023, and a short story collection that explores the darker side of the beauty industry.  

While her books are in different genres, Mariam’s work is driven by a common impulse to bring social justice issues to light, especially as they impact migrant and diasporic communities. Some common themes include outsidership, diasporic identities, ruptured cultural and familial ties, living in the social, economic or cultural margins, 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 themes of migration, belonging and identity in relationship to questions of land, place and the natural environment.

Sharp vertical stand of birch trees against a black background.
Birch Trees I

Mariam is a self-taught landscape painter — 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 global adventures, as the basis of inspiration.

Birch Trees II

Mariam earned a doctorate in 2014, for which she won the Governor General’s Gold Medal at the University of Montreal. She is Professor of English at Wilfrid Laurier University and the former president of the Canadian Association for Postcolonial Studies (CAPS), formerly known as CACLALS (Canadian Association for Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies). 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 the literatures of the South Asian and Caribbean diasporas. Mariam and her husband live in Waterloo, Ontario, the traditional territory of the Six Nations Confederacy, where they take long walks along the creeks and tributaries of the Grand River, spend far too much time gardening or binging on British detective TV-shows, or dream up their next great escape to far-off lands.

A blue sky spotted with high clouds backgrounds a thick copse of birch trees, alternating vivid red and grey-brown in the midground, a ribbon of tall grass in among them.
Birch Trees III (M. Pirbhai)
Mariam Pirbhai, author of Outside People and Other Stories (2017) and Isolated Incident (2022) bundled up in toque and parka on the snow-covered bank of the Grand River near Waterloo, Ontario.
Along the Grand River, Waterloo, ON
(Photo: Ronaldo Garcia)