2014 Arab American Book Award Winners

(Books published in 2013)


The Corpse Washer by Sinan Antoon 

The Evelyn Shakir 
Non-Fiction Award

We Are Iraqis: Aesthetics and Politics in a Time of War edited by Nadje Al-Ali and Deborah Al-Najjar

The George Ellenbogen Poetry Award

A Concordance of Leaves by Philip Metres

Children/Young Adult

Kids Guide to Arab American History by Yvonne Wakim Dennis and Maha Addasi

Honorable Mentions

The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud


Between the Middle East and the Americas: The Cultural Politics of Diaspora edited by Evelyn Alsultany and Ella Shohat
The Gaza Kitchen: A Palestinian Cultural Journey by Laila El-Haddad and Maggie Schmitt


My Daughter La Chola by Farid Matuk

AND Alight by Fady Joudah

Children/Young Adult

The Arab World Thought of It by Saima S. Hussain

Reading & Discussion Guides

Enhance the reading experience for your classroom or book club with the help of Reading & Discussion Guides for 2014’s award-winning titles. Click below to download each guide.

Award Ceremony

The 2014 Arab American Book Award winners were honored during this year’s Radius of Arab American Writers (RAWI) Gathering in Minneapolis, Minn. The award ceremony took place on Saturday, September 20 at 7pm at Open Book. The evening of celebration featured readings, book signings, food & drinks, and music. 




The Corpse Washer
By Sinan Antoon
New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2013)












The Corpse Washer, originally written in Arabic and translated to English by the author, is the story of Jawad. This young man, born to a traditional Shi'ite family of corpse washers and shrouders in Baghdad, decides to abandon the family tradition, choosing instead to become a sculptor, to celebrate life rather than tend to death. But the circumstances of history dictate otherwise. Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship and the economic sanctions of the 1990s destroy the socioeconomic fabric of society. The 2003 invasion and military occupation unleash sectarian violence. Trained as an artist to shape materials to represent life aesthetically, Jawad now must contemplate how death shapes daily life and the bodies of Baghdad’s inhabitants.

Sinan Antoon is a poet, novelist, and translator. He is associate professor at the Gallatin School, New York University, and cofounder and coeditor of the cultural page of JadaliyyaThe Corpse Washer is his second novel. Born in Iraq, Antoon now lives in New York City.

The Evelyn Shakir Non-Fiction Award

We Are Iraqis: Aesthetics and Politics in a Time of War
Edited by Nadje Al-Ali and Deborah Al-Najjar
(Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2013)

Most Americans know very little about the everyday lives of Iraqis, despite ongoing media coverage of the occupation of Iraq and its aftermath. In this anthology, Al-Ali and Al-Najjar showcase written and visual contributions by Iraqi artists, writers, poets, filmmakers, photographers, and activists, many of whom now live in the U.S. The contributors face issues common to immigrants – identity in diaspora, the lasting impact of war, cultures in transition – compounded by America’s invasion of their home country. We Are Iraqis is a highly relevant and much needed addition to this under-published subfield within Arab and Arab American studies.

Nadje Al-Ali is professor of gender studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. Her publications include Iraqi Women: Untold Stories from 1948 to the Present and What Kind of Liberation? Women and the Occupation of Iraq (coauthored with Nicola Pratt). Deborah Al-Najjar is a PhD candidate in the Department of American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California. Her fiction has been published in the Kenyon Review, the Michigan Quarterly Review, and the Indiana Review.

The George Ellenbogen Poetry Award

A Concordance of Leaves
By Philip Metres
(Doha, Qatar: Diode Editions, 2013)  


In A Concordance of Leaves, Philip Metres recalls his 2003 visit to the village of Toura in the Palestinian West Bank, on the occasion of his sister’s wedding to a resident of the village. This epic wedding poem encompasses both the Arab and Arab American experiences, working brilliantly within self-imposed constraints. Fellow Arab American Book Award winner Naomi Shihab Nye calls the piece “a tender book so transporting it carries us deeply into the soul of Palestine as well as the love of a family.”

Philip Metres has written a number of books, most recently the chapbook, abu ghraib arias (Flying Guillotine, 2011), winner of the 2012 Arab American Book Award, and To See the Earth (Cleveland State, 2008). His work has appeared in Best American Poetry and many other journals and anthologies. He is the recipient of two NEA fellowships, a Watson Fellowship, four Ohio Arts Council Grants, the Anne Halley Prize, and the Cleveland Arts Prize. He teaches literature and creative writing at John Carroll University in Cleveland, Ohio.  

Children/Young Adult

A Kid’s Guide to Arab American History
By Yvonne Wakim Dennis and Maha Addasi
(Chicago, IL: Chicago Review Press, 2013)

A Kid’s Guide to Arab American History dispels stereotypes and provides a look at the people and experiences that have shaped Arab American culture in a format enjoyable for elementary students. Each chapter focuses on a different group of Arab Americans including those of Lebanese, Syrian, Palestinian, Jordanian, Egyptian, Iraqi, and Yemeni descent. Short biographies of notable Arab Americans, including Danny Thomas, Paula Abdul, Helen Zughaib, and Ralph Nader, demonstrate a wide variety of careers and contributions. The book also features more than 50 fun activities that highlight Arab American arts, language, games, clothing, and food.

Yvonne Wakim Dennis is a Cherokee and Syrian author, curriculum developer, social worker, and multicultural consultant. She previously coauthored the award-winning A Kid’s Guide to Native American History and Native Americans Today. She lives in New York City. 

Maha Addasi is the author of The White Nights of Ramadan and Time to Pray, which received an honorable mention for the 2011 Arab American Book Award. She has been a freelance writer, news correspondent, television anchor, and radio producer in Amman, Jordan. She was born in Kuwait and lives in Fairfax, Virginia.

2014 Honorable Mentions

Honorable Mention - Fiction

The Woman Upstairs

By Claire Messud

(Vintage, 2013)

The Woman Upstairs, a New York Times bestselling novel, is told through the confessional voice of schoolteacher Nora Eldridge. Nora’s unremarkable life is shaken by the arrival of the Shahid family –Skandar, a Lebanese scholar, Sirena, an Italian artist, and their son, Reza. The family draws her into a complex and exciting new world, until a betrayal shatters Nora’s newfound happiness. Told with urgency, intimacy, and piercing emotion, The Woman Upstairs is the riveting story of a woman awakened, transformed, and abandoned by a desire for a world beyond her own.

Claire Messud is the author of The Emperor’s Children, When the World Was Steady, The Hunters, and The Last Life. All four books were named New York Times Notable Books of the Year. Messud has been awarded Guggenheim and Radcliffe Fellowships and the Strauss Living Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with her husband and children.


Honorable Mention - Non-Fiction

Between the Middle East and the Americas: The Cultural Politics of Diaspora

Edited by Evelyn Alsultany and Ella Shohat

(Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan Press, 2013)

How do we talk about Arabs and Muslims in the Americas? Between the Middle East and the Americas compares and contrasts outsider depictions of “the Middle East” as a consumable, exoticized object with self-representation by Arabs and Muslims in writing, the arts, and digital spaces. Essays in this anthology examine a range of discourses, from the imagery in Arab American hip hop to characters and dialogue in TV dramas to the rhetoric of the Mohammed cartoon controversy. As the co-editors explain in their introduction, the Americas are a place “where cultures meet, clash, and grapple within conditions of inequality,” resulting in cultural practices that must be understood within a transnational perspective.

Evelyn Alsultany is an associate professor in the Department of American Culture at the University of Michigan. She previously co-edited Arab and Arab American Feminisms (Syracuse University Press, 2011), which received the Evelyn Shakir Non-Fiction Award in the 2012 Arab American Book Awards. Ella Shohat is a professor in the Departments of Art and Public Policy, Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at New York University.

Honorable Mention - Non-Fiction

The Gaza Kitchen: A Palestinian Cultural Journey
By Laila El-Haddad and Maggie Schmitt
(Charlottesville, Va.: Just World Books, 2013)

In the summer of 2010, authors Laila El-Haddad, a Palestinian American, and Maggie Schmitt traveled the length and breadth of the Gaza Strip to collect recipes and strories. Building on that trip and the extensive knowledge that El-Haddad has gained from family and friends throughout the years, the two produced a cookbook. The result, The Gaza Kitchen, is a richly illustrated cookbook featuring 130 recipes and personal descriptions of the cuisine and the broader social and economic system in which Gazans live and prepare meals. 

Laila El-Haddad is the author of Gaza Mom: Palestine, Politics, Parenting, and Everything In Between and blogs at gazamom.com. She is a political analyst, social activist, and parent-of-three from Gaza City who currently makes her home in Maryland. Maggie Schmitt is a writer, researcher, translator, educator, and social activist. Schmitt works in various media – writing, production, photography, video – exploring and recording the daily practices of ordinary people as a way of understanding political and social realities in various parts of the Mediterranean region.

Honorable Mention - Poetry

My Daughter La Chola 

By Farid Matuk
(Boise, Id.: Ahsahta Press, 2013)

Pushing the boundaries of traditional poetry, Matuk’s new work examines the shaky ground connecting history and lore. Among crises economic and personal, from the documents of atrocities to the Golden Girls, the poems reach into Arab America and beyond, anticipating Matuk’s daughter’s inevitable fall from unspeakable glory.

Farid Matuk is the author of This Isa Nice Neighborhood (Letter Machines Editions, 2010), which received the 2011 Arab American Book Award honorable mention. He has also published poems in Third Coast, Iowa Review, Poets.org, Critical Quarterly, The Baffler, and Denver Quarterly, among others. He serves as contributing editor for The Volta and poetry editor for Fence.

Honorable Mention - Poetry

By Fady Joudah
Port Townsend, Wash.: Copper Canyon Press, 2013)

Alight, the second collection of original poems by Fady Joudah, takes a tender approach to tragedy, breaking through the past with haunting lyric mastery. In this work, Joudah attempts to unravel the structures of trauma which follow historical afflictions, both personal and global. By unharnessing the voices of survivors, often children, Joudah illuminates the violent vulnerability of displacement. Alight asks the reader to reconsider the role of a child, the renewal of the soul, and the nature of ancestral roots.

Fady Joudah is a Palestinian-American poet, translator, and physician of internal medicine. He received his medical training from the Medical College of Georgia and University of Texas, and served with Doctors Without Borders in 2002 and 2005. His first book, The Earth in the Attic, won the 2007 Yale Series of Younger Poets competition. In 2010 he received a PEN translation award for his translations of Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. 

Honorable Mention – Children/Young Adult

The Arab World Thought of It 
By Saima S. Hussain 
(Toronto: Annick Press, 2013)

This colorful, inviting book is a celebration of the innovations and achievements of the Arab people from 22 countries in North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. Author Saima Hussain, who was raised in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, presents the contributions of the Arab people in such fields as astronomy, medicine, architecture, food, education, and art. Young readers may be surprised to discover the ways in which people from this region have changed, and continue to change, the world.

Saima S. Hussain is a graduate of the University of Toronto and the Munk School of Global Affairs. This is her first book. She lives in Toronto, Canada.

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