Intolerable: Ryerson professor publishes personal memoir
New book delves into personal history, revealing a profound love for family and adoptive home of Toronto
June 27, 2012
Kamal Al-Solaylee has come a long way since his tumultuous upbringing in the Middle East. His new book, Intolerable, is a memoir of his life as a young gay man growing up in Yemen and Egypt. It details the personal and family sacrifices made along with the conflicts overcome along the way. A professor at Ryerson’s School of Journalism, Al-Solaylee wrote alongside his students in crafting his moving family tale.
The idea for Intolerable was first born in 2006, shortly after a trip that Al-Solaylee made to see his family in Yemen, his first trip there in five years. Depressed by the deterioration of his family’s living conditions as well as their departure from modernity and an increasingly prohibitive religious observance, Al-Solaylee turned to writing to help him deal with the changes he found.
In January 2010, Al-Solaylee took that writing and turned it into an article for a national Canadian newspaper. It was the most widely read piece of Al-Solaylee’s career and soon publishers were approaching him to write a book.
To write a full length memoir on his experience, Al-Solaylee once again returned to the Middle East to research his personal and family history as well as the cultural and political histories of Egypt and Yemen both before and during his lifetime.
His personal research included visits to the neighbourhoods and homes his family once lived in in Beirut and Cairo, visits to his former schools and conversations with people there who had known his family. Conversations with his sisters also helped jog his memory and fill in details of his family’s life before his birth in 1964. To re-acquaint himself with political and cultural history, Al-Solaylee turned to the internet to take in old movies and news clips from his youth.
While the result of this research has become a well-received memoir, Al-Solaylee has come away from the experience with more personal insight than expected.
“I really learned how much I love my family. I’ve grown apart from them but I love them deeply and I am very sympathetic to them and the shift that happened in their lives,” say Al-Solaylee. “I am quite amazed that writing the book helped me understand them. I was also worried about their safety during the Arab Spring, especially – when you have those concerns for your family all other things fade away.”
Writing the book also informed his teaching methods.
“The impact on my teaching has been significant. Most of the book was written in 2011 and three of those months were while I was teaching a masters of Journalism feature writing class - preparing for that course helped me bone-up on techniques. The fact that my students were writing long features and I was writing the book allowed us to exchange ideas on writing and methodologies.”
Writing at the same time as his students gave Al-Solaylee ample opportunity to lead by example. “I would come to class as say, ‘So, I wrote 2000 words this week, how far did you get?' We could compare our struggles and solutions.”
Feedback from Ryerson students has been plentiful and positive; Al-Solaylee thanks the master’s class in his acknowledgements and the book itself is dedicated to Al-Solaylee’s true home, Toronto. Arriving to Toronto in 1996, Al-Solaylee claims that Toronto became his home almost instantly. He is thankful for the opportunities he has had here; chances he may not have had anywhere else in the world.
“I’m almost a lover in love with the city, I miss it when I go away,” says Al-Solaylee. “It’s very different from what I grew up in – the hustle and bustle of Cairo, the ethnic strife of Beirut. It’s such a charmed and charming life compared to what my siblings have gone through.”
Now the Undergraduate Program Director for Ryerson’s School of Journalism, Al-Solaylee has no plans for further personal memoirs; his next book will be reporting based.
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