The academic becomes art

Date published: 2008-08-28 2:52:17 PM

Fresh from Oxford University with a PhD in social anthropology, Camilla Gibb returned to Canada with a SSHRC postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Toronto. The fellowship enabled her to build on her doctoral fieldwork in Ethiopia and undertake new research focusing on Ethiopians in the North American diaspora.

This research helped Gibb situate her work in more sophisticated theoretical frameworks and impressed upon her the need for a different way of storytelling. The emotional impact and the imaginative possibilities of her Ethiopian experience demanded fictional rather than academic treatment to give them visceral life and make them more broadly accessible.

Gibb stepped away from academia and published her first novel as her postdoctoral research came to a close. Her powerful Ethiopian experiences gained voice with her third novel, Sweetness in the Belly, which was shortlisted for the 2005 Scotiabank Giller Prize.

Through her fiction, Gibb realized she had not strayed that far from anthropology. Both her research and her books are about people’s stories, their ways of being in the world, their relationships and the diverse ways we create meaning in our lives.

Camilla Gibb, social anthropology, University of Toronto