Professional reading for educators tends to be rather prosaic, focusing on how to do things, such as taking a new approach to teaching or reinforcing specific strategies. While these books are certainly important to read, it can be highly stimulating to look outside the realm of education for new perspectives and ideas. For this reason, autobiography is one my favourite genres of writing. Reading the everyday, exceptional and relatable lived experiences of others is fascinating, inspiring, and empowering at the same time. As the publishing industry has diversified, the range of voices we can choose from as readers is broader than ever. In my own reading and exploration, I have found that many autobiographies I have helped me to enhance my work in becoming a more culturally responsive educator.

One particular autobiography that stood out for me this year is Son of Elsewhere: A Memoir in Pieces, by Elamin Abdelmahmoud. I initially picked up this book because I had been following Abdelmahmoud for his journalistic writing, but quickly learned that it was an excellent text for enriching for my teaching practice as well. Throughout this book, Abdelmahmoud shares his lived experience of Canadian school and society as a Black newcomer student learning English and a plethora of different cultural norms.

Abdelmahmoud’s book describes his journey from Sudan to Canada as a child, interweaving the turbulent colonial history of Sudan and “Operation Infinite Reach” with the numerous culture shocks that came with moving to the largely white community of Kingston, Ontario. Both informative and reflective, Abdelmahmoud’s writing tenderly intersects geopolitical, migration, and coming-of-age narratives. The concept of “elsewhere” forms the foundation of Abdelmahmoud’s storytelling. He writes: “elsewhere is an orientation, an emotional frequency, a chaotic compass that waits until you take a step in one direction, then immediately points in the direction behind you.”

Abdelmahmoud’s developing sense of identity is a central theme of the book. He discovers that he has “become” Black when he arrives in Canada, and grapples with the expectations and stereotypes that are ascribed to his skin colour in Canada. He describes the Islamophobia that surrounded his upbringing in Kingston, and the suspicion his community faces after the horrific 9/11 attacks. He also delves into what secondary school life was like as an English language learner, sometimes humorously exploring what that meant for his dating and social life.

Music and pop culture fans of the early aughts will also appreciate Abdelmahmoud’s reflections on country music and his complex connections with Linkin Park, WWE wrestling the OC. Personally, I found his thoughts on adolescence incredibly relatable and heartwarming. The tensions he describes between his parents’ Sudanese cultural values and Canadian society will likely be incredibly relatable for anyone who has grown up in a cross-cultural home.

Son of Elsewhere: A Memoir in Pieces is a worthwhile read for educators reading for work, recreation, or both! It is also available on audiobook, and is read by the author himself, which I highly reccommend.


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