Camilla Gibb was born in London, England, and grew up in Toronto. The first person in her family to earn a university degree, she holds a B.A. in anthropology and Middle Eastern studies from the University of Toronto and a Ph.D. in social anthropology from Oxford. While researching her thesis, she spent a year living with a family in the ancient walled city of Harar, Ethiopia.
After returning to Canada, Gibb spent two years at the University of Toronto as a post-doctoral research fellow. She probably would have continued in academia were it not for a chance encounter that enabled her to pursue her longtime dream of writing fiction. One day, a friend of a colleague caught her moping on a bench. After hearing about her frustrated desire to be a full-time writer, the man asked how much she needed to support herself while working on her first novel. The next week he showed up with the amount she had quoted: $6000. At first she refused, but he convinced her that it was just another form of scholarship, no strings attached. Gibb’s brother lent her his trailer, where she wrote on a laptop plugged into a small stove. Mouthing the Words, which poured out of her in just eight weeks, sold internationally and won the City of Toronto Book Award in 2000. Her second novel, The Petty Details of So-and-So’s Life, was also published to great acclaim around the world and was selected by The Globe and Mail as one of the Best Books of the Year. In 2002, Gibb was named by the jury of the prestigious Orange Prize as one of 21 writers to watch in the new century.
Gibb’s third best-selling novel, Sweetness in the Belly, was shortlisted for the 2005 Scotiabank Giller Prize. Gibb explains that she experienced two major challenges in writing this story. For one, she had to move beyond her thesis, which she describes in a Toronto Star interview as “this dry, boring thing with all the blood and the life sucked out of it.” She adds: “Everything that had moved me had been expunged – all the intimacies and the relationships that I longed to write about.” She was also forced do a major rewrite when she turned the main character from a child into an adult. Of the 400 pages she originally submitted to her editor only five made the final cut. “I was relying on the charm and naïveté of a child,” she said in an interview with The Ottawa Citizen. “But at some stage I knew I had to grow up as a writer, and my characters have to grow up too. Added to that was more responsibility – I had to take a stance, have an opinion, be informed.”
Camilla Gibb lives in Toronto, where she serves as Vice President of PEN Canada and Writer-in-Residence at the University of Toronto. She is currently working on a new novel about a community bound and defined by an unnamed illness that is stigmatized, feared, and misunderstood, and how the outside world responds to the perceived threat of an epidemic of unknown origin.