After coming up short in similar contests on four previous occasions Kamal Al-Solaylee could be forgiven for saying he was completely surprised that he had finally won, even as he was announced as winner.
“It was such a daze, I didn’t not expect to win at all,” said Al-Solaylee in a phone interview of his Toronto Book Award win.
The Ryerson associate professor won the grand prize for Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes.
The first thing he did was tweet his win, but said he was preceded by almost twenty others. “I was late at breaking my own news,” he laughs.
He adds that he has since emailed his family, and expects them to be “thrilled and happy for me.”
Intolerable, charts Al-Solaylee’s journey from the Arab-Muslim world to Toronto in search of community and acceptance.
The book started as a personal project for him: “Writing was a sort of therapy for me coming back from a trip to Yemen,” he said.
Despite the acclaim, Al-Solaylee admits that he has still not fully come to terms with everything he experienced there, and subsequently documented.
The hardest part to write, he says, was about his mother. “It still causes me to weep,” he says of her selflessness. “I did not realize the sacrifice that she made.”
The memoir was among five shortlisted books, including Aga Maksimowska’s novel, Giant, and Katrina Onstad’s, Everybody has Everything.
The contest win included a cash award of $10,000, and a previous $1,000 for making the shortlist. Another non-fiction work, he says, is currently in the works.