First Fiction Fridays: Rumi and the Red Handbag by Shawna Lemay

November 27, 2015

Our First Fiction Friday Pick, Rumi and the Red Handbag, explores women's relationships and memories through otherwise material things. Shawna Lemay's quietly powerful debut unites two women, Shaya and Ingrid-Simone, who inspire each other in the most unassuming of places – a secondhand clothing store.

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Lemay COVER highres


Rumi and the Red Handbag (Palimpsest Press, 2015)


Shawna Lemay is a writer, blogger (, photographer, and library assistant. She has written six books of poetry, All the God-Sized Fruit, Against Paradise, Still, Blue Feast, Red Velvet Forest, and Asking, as well as a book of essays, Calm Things, and an experimental work, Hive: A Forgery. Her first book won the Stephan G. Stephansson Award and the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award. She lives in Edmonton with her partner, Robert Lemay, a visual artist, and their daughter, Chloe.

Why you need to read this now:

Rumi and the Red Handbag follows the lives of second-hand clothes store coworkers Shaya and Ingrid-Simone, over one winter. Theodora’s Fine Consignment Clothing shop becomes a small world where Shaya, an academic who abandoned her studies in the secrets of women writers, finds in Ingrid-Simone a reason to begin writing again, on scraps of paper and post-its. Fresh, unique and intelligent, Rumi and The Red Handbag is a journey to the Museum of Bags and Purses in Amsterdam, a journey to find Rumi, the soul, and the secret hidden in a red handbag.

Named as one of Harper’s Bazaar’s Top 15 Reads for 2015, Rumi makes what is material, spiritual: handbags as receptacles for memories, carrying souls. The friendship between Shaya and Ingrid-Simone is a testament to women’s friendships – “a hushed and quiet celebration of women and their lives and their words and the secrets they carry” according to Kerry Clare. Globe and Mail fashion columnist Nathalie Atkinson calls Rumi a “fashion fable, is a lovely and lyrical novel about a mysterious young woman who works in a subterranean second-hand clothing boutique. At its heart though, it’s really about vintage clothes as repositories of memory, hope and enchantment.”

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Big thanks to Aimee from Palimpsest for sharing Rumi with us.

Love discovering new authors? Check out all our past First Fiction Friday picks  here.


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