Aaliyah Bilal is a fiction and nonfiction writer who focuses on the Black American Muslim experience and stories that connect Chinese and Afro-Diasporic peoples. She has experience as a director and producer of short films and she has published stories and essays with The Michigan Quarterly Review, The Chicago Quarterly Review, and The Rumpus.
Bilal’s path to publishing was both untraditional and inspiring. Temple Folk, her first short story collection and a 2023 National Book Award finalist, was acquired by Simon and Schuster after an open call for submissions, without an agent or connections to the world of publishing.
Temple Folk explores the multifaceted identity of Black Muslims in America, delving into their experiences with race, religion, economics, politics, and sexuality. The collection of ten stories depicts a community resisting mainstream culture while navigating the expectations placed upon them. Each story offers intimate glimpses into characters grappling with moral contradictions, blending compassion, nuance, and humor to highlight the human aspects of their imperfections and failures.
Born and raised in Prince George’s County, Maryland, Bilal obtained degrees from Oberlin College and the University of London School of Oriental and African Studies.
- Temple Folk
- Islam and Women
- China and the Black diaspora
Temple Folk is more than a special literary accomplishment, it is a gift of glorious songs. The people in the nation of Islam have not appeared very often in literature. Now, Aaliyah Bilal arrives with a splendid and grand collection of 10 stories that, with sensitivity and insight and skill, give us a world of people, our loved ones, and neighbors, who decided that life might be better in the nation. We have long needed these stories, these songs, and this gift should be praised from as many rooftops as possible.”
—Edward P. Jones, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Known World
Obviously a student of history, and even more so, a student of the human heart, Aaliyah Bilal lays bare the interior lives of Black Muslims in these ten extraordinary stories. Across decades, generations, and continents, Bilal’s finely wrought and unforgettable characters grapple with religion, culture, family, desire, and most compellingly, themselves. Every story was an eye-opener for me. Bilal is a gifted storyteller, and Temple Folk is quite simply a masterpiece.”
–Deesha Philyaw, author of The Secret Life of Church Ladies
Aaliyah Bilal is a gifted storyteller who understands how to build a world that feels both particular in its contours and universal in the challenges, triumphs and yearnings of its characters. The stories that make up Temple Folk explore love, faith, loyalty and disillusionment while offering up gorgeous language and unforgettable imagery. Temple Folk feels like no collection I have read before and announces Bilal as a literary talent worth championing.”
–Angela Flournoy, Author of The Turner House
A beautiful and vivid collection of stories. Aaliyah Bilal is the truth. Grateful for her voice in the world.”
–Jacqueline Woodson, National Book Award-winning and New York Times bestselling author
Temple Folk is a remarkable debut that does many things at once. It opens the door to a people we barely know, yet opens our eyes to the struggles that make us all human. People surprise and they disappoint. They stumble spiritually and soar morally. They love with all they have and lose all they’ve got. Put between faith and family, duty and self, Temple folk live through all the ties that bind and break.”
–Marlon James, Winner of the 2015 Booker Prize
With her landmark debut, Temple Folk, Aaliyah Bilal shines a light on a Black American community that, for all its influence, hasn’t been given its due in fiction—the Nation of Islam. The deftness of her storytelling allows total access to characters struggling to practice faith as a means of survival. This is a truly masterful work, full of compassion, humor, nuance, and great insight.”
–Emily Raboteau, Author of Searching for Zion
November 1, 2023
October 12, 2023
July 8, 2022