Mariam Pirbhai is a creative writer and academic. She 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 collection of short stories, Outside People and Other Stories (Inanna, 2017), won the International Publisher’s (IPPY) and American Book Fest awards in the categories of Multicultural Fiction and the Short Story, respectively.
Recommended by CBC Books, Quill and Quire, Hamilton Review of Books and featured in the Toronto International Festival of Authors, Isolated Incident (Mawenzi House, 2022) is Mariam’s debut novel depicting the disturbing rise in hate-crimes directed at Canadian Muslims living in and around Toronto and Montreal. As Quill and Quire reviewer Zeahaa Rehman notes, “reading Isolated Incident is not unlike receiving a series of pinpricks that ultimately form a bruise in the reader’s heart, reminding them of their relationship to the deeply rooted Islamophobia in Canada.”
More recently, Mariam has turned to nature writing in a book of creative nonfiction titled Garden Inventories: Reflections on Land, Place and Belonging (Wolsak & Wynn, 2023). Here, Mariam explores the land and landscapes of southern Ontario through the language of gardens and gardening, where the desire to “put down roots” becomes deeply entangled in the emotional, cultural and physical geographies of an émigré’s migration history. Métis poet Rita Bouvier describes Garden Inventories: Reflections on Land, Place and Belonging as “a walk through one’s world with all of the senses — mind, body, emotion, spirit and imagination — in search of home.”
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 social justice issues impacting migrant and diasporic communities. 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), co-editor of a scholarly essay collection, Critical Perspectives on Indo-Caribbean Women’s Literature (Routledge, 2013), and numerous scholarly works in the field of South Asian Canadian literature.
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.