Kingstonian Elamin Abdelmahmoud has led a double life, but probably not the kind that you’re thinking of.
Like many Canadians, Abdelmahmoud had a bicultural upbringing in Canada, having emigrated with his family from his native Sudan to Kingston when he was 12 years old. This cultural superposition is the overarching theme behind his debut book, Son of Elsewhere, wherein Abdelmahmoud accounts his experiences growing up in both Sudan’s capital of Khartoum, as well as Kingston – particularly, how these wildly differing environments and cultures ultimately helped shape his identity, as well as instilling a sense of cultural ambiguity into adulthood.
“Kingston is beautiful, and I’m a fan of Kingston, but it’s also not very much like Sudan in that way, right? So, from the moment you land here, you’re sort of occupying two spaces at once. You’re sort of looking for your place – trying to figure it out. Where’s home? What reminds me of home? What is home? And I figured out that ‘what is home?’ changes. Home is actually just the place where you’re trying to make peace with all these different identities,” Abdelmahmoud said of the title of his upcoming book.
Abdelmahmoud’s father had initially thought of Toronto as a destination for his family, but while visiting Kingston, settled on the city as the safer environment to raise his family in. Abdelmahmoud was then enrolled in elementary school, where his English skills began to take off with help from the local Sudanese community. It was around age 14 that Abdelmahmoud says he no longer had to “translate English to Arabic in my head” as part of language comprehension, but simply learned to think in English just as proficiently as in Arabic, instilling the beginnings of a love affair with the English language. As the Kingstonian and Canadian parts of his identity began to grow, Abdelmahmoud said, many coming-of-age events helped fuel his social adaptation and diversified his sense of identity.
After high school, Abdelmahmoud entered Queen’s University where he initially planned to study philosophy, but later switched gears to acquiring a BA in gender studies –that discipline asked the in-depth questions that he intuited would be helpful during his career, Abdelmahmoud explained. Not long after graduating, he began working part time for CBC as a researcher for George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight, The National, and CBC News, among others, before landing a full-time position with TVO’s The Agenda for two years. In 2015, Abdelmahmoud’s career escalated further when he moved to BuzzFeed, where he works as Social Media Editor, Culture Writer and News Editor, on top of hosting the CBC Podcast Pop Chat – the third podcast that he’s been involved in with the CBC – making his recent authorship of Son of Elsewhere a feather added to a cap already overflowing with plumage for a 33-year-old.
“I was approached by an editor maybe four years ago; it was the end of 2017 – I had written this piece that was basically a eulogy for Gord Downie, published out of BuzzFeed – and he reached out and said ‘Hey man, have you thought about writing a book?’” Abdelmahmoud recalled. “It honestly took a while to figure out what it was that I wanted to investigate. I feel like, for me, a memoir was almost too linear – like too clean of a story – which is not really how I think about my own story. A lot of these essays have to do with pop culture or certain events that taught me something about who I am.”
Having no formal training in journalism, Abdelmahmoud’s education and career seem to stem from pursuing his passion for culture, and boldly diving into the real questions about what influences us and shapes our identities.
“I can dig into one of those topics and say that this is how this shaped me, and then dip out. That’s much more my speed. And I can do that 14 times easier than I can write just a whole story from beginning to end,” he elaborated on his writing process. “There was a pivotal moment – where I had learned enough English that I no longer had to think in Arabic and translate to English, I could just think in English – The OC came along right at that perfect moment and that coming-of-age kind of also became embroiled and enmeshed into my own coming of age. That felt more tackle-able to me.”