Originally Published December 2022
Toronto-based Bangladeshi-Canadian author Silmy Abdullah visited Guelph for the first time as the featured author of the University of Guelph’s common reading program, Gryphons Read. Gryphons Read is a campus wide book club that brings the university community together through meaningful conversation and the exploration of important books. Abdullah’s debut 2021 fictional short story collection, Home of the Floating Lily was the talk of the literary club. Her book was a runner up for the 2021 Danuta Gleed Literary Award and on the longlist for the 2022 Toronto Book Award.
Abdullah was born in Bangladesh and moved with her family to Saudi Arabia at the age of one. Her family lived in Saudi Arabia for 12 years before moving to Canada. The eight stories found within her collection shine a critical light on issues faced by newcomers to Canada. Set in a fictional neighbourhood in Toronto, as well as Bangladesh, she examines themes of displacement, belonging, love, friendship, gender-based violence, and familial controversy. She said the greatest risk she has taken as a writer was being absolutely true to herself and writing stories in the way she wanted to.
“I simply wrote what I felt most passionate about writing, and listened to my heart, and it brought the greatest rewards. I have no regrets, and in fact, I believe that writers create their best work when they write from a place of honesty and authenticity.”
Abdullah has a way of taking moments from the everyday lives of her characters and making the mundane extraordinary. She hopes that people who pick up her book are able to have an enjoyable and enriching reading experience and connect to the universal themes that are present within the stories.
“It’s hard to predict what will excite readers, as different people look for different things when they read a book or a story. My only hope is that readers are able to connect with the characters and the stories, and that my book appeals to people regardless of which community they belong to.”
When asked which of the eight stories was her favourite, Abdullah found it difficult to choose. She said that each of the stories are special and meaningful to her in different ways.
“But If I had to pick one, I would choose All the Adjustments because it was really fun to write. It was challenging and fulfilling at the same time to create the complex characters of Ayesha and Rachel.”
Writing has been a passion for Abdullah since she was very young.
“I am very fortunate to come from a family where literature is celebrated. My late grandfather was a writer, and my grandmother, who is in her 80's, still writes. I have grown up surrounded by books and a lot of encouragement for writing.”
According to an interview with a member of the Gryphons Read family, Aimee Copping, Abdullah wrote her first poem at the age of seven. From that point onward, she knew that she wanted to be a writer. Even with the support of her family behind her every step of the way, her journey was not without hurdles that she had to overcome.
“I heard all sorts of advice when I was writing, that I should consider using a pen name instead of my own to sell more books, that short stories don’t sell much…There were also times that I doubted myself and felt scared, not sure if anyone would be interested in stories about my community, in stories that were different from the typical, sensationalised and stereotypical stories about Muslims that often attract attention from the media and public.”
In the same interview with Copping, Abdullah said that she is driven by curiosity and compassion. She thinks often of the driving factors behind the decisions that people make.
“That’s what I really like to explore in these stories,” she said.
Going forward as an author, Abdullah says she will continue to write about what inspires her. Currently she is working on new short stories as well as her first novel.
“In the next five years, I am hoping that I will be ready to share more of my work with the world,” she said.
If you would like to read more about the work of Silmy Abdullah you can visit her website at https://silmyabdullah.com and check out her Instagram page @silmyabdullah_author.
She said that during her short time in the city she was excited about the interest shown locally in arts and literature. Hopefully this means she will soon return to our little artist hub of Guelph ON
Pictured in this photo from left to right is author and organizer of Gryphons Read Lawrence Hill, featured author Silmy Abdullah and President & Vice-Chancellor of University of Guelph and a faculty member in the Department of Political Science Charolette Yates. The three posed together on Sept. 26, 2022 after Abdullah’s live interview with Hill.