Media scholar and author Dr. Kamal Al-Solaylee named as new UBC JWAM director

The University of British Columbia welcomes Dr. Kamal Al-Solaylee as the new Director of the School of Journalism, Writing, and Media (JWAM). 

Dr. Al-Solaylee will begin a five-year term as director on Sept. 1, 2021. He is currently a professor at the Ryerson University School of Journalism, and worked at the Globe and Mail as an Editor for Report on Business, as well as a theatre critic.

“I am delighted to welcome Dr. Al-Solaylee to UBC,” said Faculty of Arts Dean Dr. Gage Averill. “His commitment to advancing diversity and inclusion, and his wide-ranging background is a perfect fit for our newly amalgamated school encompassing journalism, writing, and media.” 

“Like the school itself, I’m a hybrid,” said Dr. Al-Solaylee. “My academic background is in English literature, my practice is in journalism and my creative focus is literary nonfiction. I’ve had to adapt my writing from an academic to a general audience and back to an academic readership over the years. I continue to straddle both. This is my way of saying that journalism, writing and media have shaped my career so I felt that this school would be a natural fit for me.”

“I look forward to working with my colleagues from the writing discipline. I’m fascinated with the mechanics and modes of writing and communicating across different subject matters — and arts and culture in particular. I’m keen to start many conversations within and beyond JWAM as we explore our professional and academic common grounds,” he added.

Dr. Al-Solaylee’s research interests include race, immigration, arts and culture, and long-form narrative. He teaches feature writing, creative nonfiction, arts journalism, magazine editing, and critical and opinion writing. He is a distinguished scholar who combines teaching, research, and practice, underpinned by a dedication to public scholarship and a deep commitment to advancing equity, diversity and inclusion in academia. 

“We are thrilled to welcome Professor Kamal Al-Solaylee to JWAM and look forward to working with him in his new role,” said Dr. Jaclyn Rea, Acting Director of the School of Journalism, Writing, and Media. “We are particularly excited about his vision for the School, a vision that centers inclusion, diversity, and collaboration in all areas, including research, teaching and program development. The next five years, under Professor Al-Solaylee’s leadership, promises to be inspiring and generative.” 

Dr. Al-Solaylee is an award-winning author, who wrote the national bestseller Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes, winner of the 2013 Toronto Book Award and a finalist for the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction and CBC Canada Reads. His second book, Brown: What Being Brown in the World Today Means (to Everyone), won the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing in 2017 and was a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Awards for Nonfiction. His third nonfiction book, Return: Why We Go Back to Where We Come From, will be published in September 2021 by HarperCollins Canada.

“Journalism and the media industry in Canada do not fully reflect Canada’s changing demographics,” says Dr. Al-Solaylee. “It’s important to see who is not in the room and ask why some students are reluctant to pursue journalism at the graduate level.” 

He plans to address this by taking a holistic approach to the curriculum and identifying gaps in representation as well as casting a wide net for students. 

“There are issues around trust and credibility. Others relate to representation and gatekeeping: Whose voice is given a platform or who is being sidelined? Personally, I think the industry is sleep walking through climate change. Scratch that. Climate catastrophe. We’re constantly in survival mode and not thinking enough about the world we’re creating or leaving behind,” added Dr. Al-Solaylee.

“I want to listen and see how I can support my new colleagues, students and staff. I’d like to see more collaboration across the faculty’s areas of expertise but in organic ways. I hope to place JWAM at the heart of conversations about journalism and media in Canada and beyond.”