By JACKIE HONG
Ryerson journalism professor Kamal Al-Solaylee’s book, Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes, has been nominated for the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction. The $60,000 prize is awarded annually to an outstanding work of Canadian nonfiction.“I feel like I’ve come full-circle… That my story was considered a Canadian story,” Al-Solaylee said of the nomination. “I don’t really pat myself on the back but I actually see it as just another example of how great this country’s been to me.”Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes, details Al-Solaylee’s family history and his life as a gay man growing up in a rapidly changing Middle East. It also traces the different paths that Al-Solaylee and his siblings took as he studied in England and moved to Canada while they stayed behind and adapted to the conservative culture that swept through the Arab world in the mid ’70s and ’80s.
The book received excellent reviews, and as a result, news outlets including Xtra, the Toronto Star, the Globe and Mail, and the CBC have profiled and interviewed Al-Solaylee.
Al-Solaylee’s family back in Yemen, however, feel differently about the memoir’s success.
“The generation of my brothers and sisters are probably not very happy with the book, and I expected that,” Al-Solaylee said. “But the generation of my nephews and nieces are very… cool about it, they’re very proud of me and accepting of me as a gay man without any reservations.” He pointed to this difference in opinions as an example of the changing attitudes in the Middle East that helped fuel the Arab Spring and that are now driving the future of the region in a new direction.
At Ryerson, Al-Solaylee said the reception to the book and its nomination for the Writer’s Trust Prize has been overwhelmingly positive.
“What I’ve noticed is how happy my colleagues and students are for me, and that they’ve been extremely supportive of the book,” Al-Solaylee said. “The Ryerson community has been the most important community to open its arms to the book.”
Should he win the prize, Al-Solaylee said he would like to take six months off from his teaching position to work on a second book. It would be a novel, he said, but revealed little else about his next project.
“It’s still about the Arab experience, it’s a comedy, that’s all I can say,” he said.
He also has simpler, less writing-motivated plan for the prize money too.
“Bathroom renovation!” Al-Solaylee said. “I have an amazing apartment, but I’ve got a disgusting old bathroom that’s so cold in the winter!”
The prize winner will be chosen by a panel of judges and announced in November at a presentation gala at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto.