Word On The Street Festival

Photo by Maria Siassina

[I]t is a Sunday afternoon in Toronto and Queen’s Park Circle is filled with people of all ages flipping through recently purchased books, enjoying barbecued corn on the cob, and wandering from tent to tent at the annual Word On The Street Festival.

Among the well-known speakers at the festival including David Suzuki, Adrienne Clarkson and Food Network’s Michael Smith, was Ryerson journalism professor Kamal Al-Solaylee. The former Globe and Mail theatre critic was featured in the non-fiction tent where he spoke about his book Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes.

The memoir outlines his life as a gay man living in an unbearable country, and how his Arab family endured the political turmoil in the Middle East.

While Al-Solaylee read from the introduction of his book, his audience learned quickly about his love for his illiterate mother. He states that writing his book “became very much about my mother.”

Since his book sheds light on his sexuality, Al-Solaylee admits that most of his family members were angry when the book was published. On the other hand, his niece and nephew were very supportive of his work.

His first name, Kamal, means “perfection” in Arabic. Al-Solaylee admits that living up to the meaning of his name is a form of self-destruction. He remains humble and calls himself pretentious when it comes to the abstract art that decorates his apartment.
He also expressed how he wants his text to help gay men in intolerable countries embrace their sexuality.

Al Solaylee stated, “If I can do something that gives them hope and tells them there is nothing wrong with you…this is who you are.”

People laughed when Al-Solaylee admits that his first pop music crush was Olivia Newton John and that Barbara Streisand taught him everything he knows about being gay.

In the 30 minutes Al-Solaylee was speaking, spectators were able to get a glimpse into the novel and an understanding of the man who wrote it.

Intolerable is dedicated to Toronto for, “giving [Al-Solaylee] what [he’s] been looking for: a home.” His dedication is relatable to the people celebrating reading at the Word On The Street Festival in a city full of opportunities for people like Al-Solaylee.