Author Djamila Ibrahim on how fiction can help us connect to the people around us

This year’s Canadian Writers in Person Lecture Series debuted on Sept. 18 with Djamila Ibrahim who came to talk about her collection of short stories, Things Are Good Now. York University Teaching Assistant Dana Patrascu-Kingsley sent the following report to YFile.

Djamila Ibrahim

Djamila Ibrahim was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and moved to Canada in 1990. Her stories have been shortlisted for the University of Toronto’s Penguin Random House of Canada Student Award for Fiction and Briarpatch Magazine’s creative writing contest. She was formerly a senior adviser for Citizenship and Immigration Canada. She currently lives in Toronto.

She started writing as part of the creative writing classes she took at the University of Toronto. She noted, “I wanted to tell stories that were not told in Canadian literature. I was inspired by Black female writers.” Her stories open a door into the world of migrants from Ethiopia and Eritrea, giving us a sense of the depth and diversity of these experiences. The characters in this collection are women and men, young and old, Muslim and Christian, and others in between.

Ibrahim has family on both sides of the Eritrean and Ethiopian border. From them, she says, “I have inherited the sense of life’s precariousness.”

These stories reveal the complexity of a migration process that often means running away from something that has become unbearable (armed conflict, torture, extreme poverty) to something that is completely unknown. The experiences of the migrants in this collection of stories, whether they come to Canada, the U.S. or the Middle East, are complicated.

The Globe and Mail review points out: “Things Are Good Now makes clear that asylum isn’t the same as resolution. As Canada expects only increased numbers of asylum seekers in 2018, this is essential fiction for right now.”

The story “Spilled Water” is about a young Ethiopian girl who is adopted into a white Canadian family and has a hard time relating to her new family, who knows nothing of the trauma she has gone through. Somehow, because of no other choice, they do learn to trust each other, but the story also raises the spectre of other (possible) tragic endings.

In the short story “You Made Me Do This,” the mother of a teenage boy mourns the murder of her son in Ottawa. She also has to come to terms with the fact that her own actions and false sense of security in Canada might have led to her son’s death.

Ibrahim invites us to look closer at the people around us and hear their stories. She says, “I learned from these stories about many things I took for granted. I can see better what people around me are about.”

Kathleen Winter will be coming to the Canadian Writers in Person Lecture Series on Oct. 2 to talk about her novel Lost in September.

Readings are free and open to any member of the public. For more information, contact Professor Leslie Sanders at or Professor Gail Vanstone at All readings are held Tuesdays from 7 to 9 p.m. in 206 Accolade West Building, Keele Campus.