Kamal received the coveted Toronto Book Award in October 2013 for his debut work, a memoir recounting his experience of growing up as the youngest of 11 in Yemen, Lebanon and Egypt — as a gay man.
After completing his PhD in England, his ambition was to teach. Faculty positions were sparse and Kamal found himself instead at Canada's newspaper of record, The Globe and Mail.
When asked about the prevalent sense amongst Arabs of bias in the media, he is understanding — acknowledging certain outlets take a negative approach -- but not totally sympathetic. "I would flip that and ask, 'what are you doing to combat these images?''
He believes it's up to Canadian Arabs to engage and fight back against perceived injustice: writing letters, complaining to press councils, getting involved. "Don't take it lying down," he says.
The award-winning professor shows conspicuous humility throughout our conversation, almost shyness. On the one hand, he credits his family for providing opportunities. He recalls how his late mother — who herself could not read — had encouraged him to "escape" when he sought her blessings to leave to the U.K. He also acknowledges the role of patient editors and circumstance, being at the right place at the right time.
Importantly though, he dedicates his book to Toronto. "It was one opportunity after another," he says, largely crediting the city for his achievements. He praises Toronto's diversity and acceptance, its sense of security. After years of escaping conflict, and maintaining a relationship with an increasingly estranged family, Toronto is for Kamal, finally, home.
Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes is on the bookshelves now. Kamal Al-Solaylee's next project will take a global look at race issues.