Speaking topic: What being brown in the world today means (to everyone)

While issues of racial discrimination and bias have never really disappeared from public and private conversations, they have returned with a vengeance in the last few years. A global refugee crisis, the election of Donald Trump, Brexit and the mass migration of workers from the developing world have forced most of us to reconsider what we know (or think we do) about race and skin colour on one hand and justice, social cohesion and labour on the other.

In this talk, Kamal Al-Solaylee, journalist, university professor and bestselling author, takes an international look at the intersections of race and politics through the lens of brown skin and the emergence of brownness as distinct racialized experience that often gets left out when we see the world in black and white.

From the emergence of brown workers as the source of cheap labour around the world to the racial baiting of a sitting president of the United States to the return of ethno-nationalism in Europe, Al-Solaylee attempts to explain a world that has become increasingly confusing and unsettling. Throughout this talk and his book Brown, Al-Solaylee stops to take a closer look at the lives of men and women caught in the turmoil of these massive global movements and at Canada’s place in that larger narrative.

Return: Why We Go Back to Where We Come From

 In this talk, Kamal Al-Solaylee takes his audience on a journey around the world to explore one of the most natural yet frequently misunderstood human experiences: our desire to return to a place of origin, the homeland. Why do many immigrants and refugees leave their adopted home countries to seek a connection with a place they or their parents — and in some cases ancestors — left behind willingly or by force? How do we define belonging or identity in a world where the line between the “here” and the “over there,” our “now” and our “back then” is becoming hard to tell apart. The idea of return as an integral part of the movement of people and our understanding of global migration has received little attention from writers and scholars. Drawing on insights from his book Return: Why We Go Back to Where We Come From (2021), Al-Solaylee explores the many meanings and stories of return through historical analysis, storytelling and on-the-ground reporting from places as far apart as Jamaica, Spain, Northern Ireland, Ghana, Taiwan, Israel and the Palestinian Territories. Along the way, he examines his own utterly irrational obsession with returning to his homeland of Yemen, a country in a state of war for more than seven years now. Behind the geopolitics, he illuminates and shares with his audience a subculture of returnees whose stories are inspiring, funny, surprising and, for the most, never-ending.

Kamal Al-Solaylee is the author of the national bestseller Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes, which won the 2013 Toronto Book Award and was a finalist for the CBC’s Canada Reads and the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction. His second book, Brown: What Being Brown in the World Today Means (to Everyone), was a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Awards for Nonfiction, the Trillium Book Award and won the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing.  Return: Why We Go Back to Where We Come From was published in 2021 and was a Globe and Mail and CBC Best Book of the Year.

He’s a regular contributor to various TV and radio programs on Canadian and international networks. He has served on many literary juries, including the Giller Prize, Canada’s top fiction award, and the Amazon.ca First Novel Award.

He was previously a theatre critic at the Globe and Mail and has written reviews and features on arts and politics for all major Canadian publications, winning the Gold Medal for columns in 2019 from the National Magazine Awards. He holds a PhD in English from Nottingham University and is the director of the School of Journalism, Writing, and Media at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

To book Kamal Al-Solaylee, contact Rob Firing at speakers@transatlanticagency.com.