2008 Arab American Book Award Winners

Adult Fiction

Remember Me to Lebanon: Stories of Lebanese Woman in America
By Evelyn Shakir
(Syracuse University Press)

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Remember Me to Lebanon
 is a collection of telling, often luminous stories, about the lives of Lebanese women in America. Evelyn Shakir crafts tales that are rich in history and cultural detail, setting her stories in different eras, from the 1960s to the present and carrying us back, on occasion, to the turn of the twentieth century. Each in their own way, Shakir’s first- and second-generation women work either to reclaim their Lebanese heritage or to leave it behind. Her stories dismantle stereotypes and remind us that women of Lebanese background have been a part of the American narrative for over a century.

Evelyn Shakir is a fiction writer, personal essayist, and pioneering scholar of Arab American literature. The daughter of Lebanese immigrants to the United States, she is author of Bint Arab: Arab and Arab American Women in the United States (Praeger; 1997), among other titles. As a Senior Fulbright scholar, she has taught American literature to university students in both Lebanon and Syria; under the auspices of Bentley College (where she is professor emerita), she has taught similar courses in the kingdom of Bahrain. She holds degrees from Wellesley College, Harvard University, and Boston University. Shakir is based in Boston, Massachusetts.

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Adult Non-Fiction

Another Arabesque: Syrian-Lebanese Ethnicity in Neoliberal Brazil
By John Tofik Karam
(Temple University Press)

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John Tofik Karam is a core faculty member in the Latin American and Latino Studies Program at DePaul University in Chicago. His teaching interests are ethnicity, nationalism, globalization, Brazil, and what he calls ‘the Arab Americas.’ Currently, he is carrying out research on post-9/11 cross-border mobilizations organized or supported by Arab immigrants and descendents along the trinational border between Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina.

Born and raised in upstate New York, Karam is the third generation of an Arab American family whose ties reach across Brazil, Lebanon, and the U.S.  His academic interests in the Arab diaspora were inspired by his grandmother, who was born in Brazil and held a profound longing for her brothers and sisters who remained in Brazil and Lebanon, even after decades of raising and caring for her own children and grandchildren in the U.S.

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Children or Young Adult

Tasting the Sky: A Palestinian Childhood
By Ibtisam Barakat
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

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Educator, poet and peace activist Ibtisam Barakat grew up in Ramallah, West Bank, and now lives in Columbia, Missouri. Her work focuses on healing social injustices and the hurts of wars, especially those involving young people. Barakat emphasizes that conflicts are more likely to be resolved with creativity, kindness, and inclusion rather than with force, violence, and exclusion. Tasting the Sky, her first book, is a moving and elegant memoir of Barakat’s experiences as a child during the Six-Day War and its aftermath.

Barakat is the founder of Write Your Life seminars and has led seminars in Morocco, Washington, D.C., Missouri, and Ramallah. In 2001, she was a delegate to the third United Nations conference on the elimination of racism. In 2004, Barakat was a visiting writer at the Creativity for Peace camp, which brought Israeli and Palestinian teenage girls to Santa Fe to provide an opportunity for them to live together in cooperation and peace. In January 2005, she was a moderator at the fourth international Faculty for Israeli-Palestinian Peace conference in Jerusalem, where Israeli, Palestinian, and international faculty members and students work toward finding creative ways to bring about peace for Israel and Palestine.

The author’s website, www.ibtisambarakat.com, is currently under construction.

2008 Honorable Mentions

Adult Fiction

By Diana Abu-Jaber
(W.W. Norton)

In this “mystery of cold beauty and dark isolation, written with crystalline precision” (Miami Herald), a series of crib deaths in Syracuse, New York, draws the attention of police and national media. Is a serial infant murderer at large? A “haunting story, icy cold in its upstate New York setting but glowing with the unusual brightness of its heroine” (Eugene Weekly), Origin stars a solitary fingerprint examiner who finds herself playing a critical role in the case. Diana Abu-Jaber, a “gifted and graceful writer” (Chicago Tribune), masterfully “transcends formula” (Kirkus Reviews) as “the tension of Origin escalates, shaped as much by beautifully nuanced prose as menacing events” (New York Daily News).

Diana Abu-Jaber is also the author of Crescent, which was awarded the 2004 PEN Center USA Award for Literary Fiction and the Before Columbus Foundation’s American Book Award and was named one of the 20 best novels of 2003 by The Christian Science Monitor; and Arabian Jazz, which won the 1994 Oregon Book Award and was nominated for the PEN/Faulkner Award. She teaches at Portland State University and divides her time between Portland, Oregon and Miami, Florida.

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Adult Non-Fiction 

Annals of the Caliphs’ Kitchens: Ibn Sayyar al-Warraq’s Tenth-Century Baghdadi Cookbook
By Nawal Nasrallah

Written nearly a thousand years ago, al-Warraq’s cookbook is the most comprehensive work of its kind. This traditional cookbook with more than 600 recipes from the luxurious cuisine of medieval Islam is also a rare guide to the contemporary culinary culture. Its numerous anecdotes and poems unfold the role of food in the politics of Islam’s golden era.

Introducing this elegant translation is a thorough survey of the period and its food culture. An extensive glossary, in Arabic and English, of medieval ingredients and dishes, and an appendix of historical figures provide the necessary reference tools for this work. Making this key resource available in English for the first time to scholars and the general reader fills a gap in the cultural history of medieval Islam.

Nawal Nasrallah holds a Masters of Arts in English and Comparative Literature and taught English and American Literature at Baghdad and Mosul universities from 1977 through 1990. She has lectured on Mesopotamian and medieval Baghdadi cuisine, as well as the cooking of modern Iraq. She has produced a television program on Mesopotamian baking and has won cooking awards in Bloomington, Indiana and nationally under the aegis of Gourmet MagazineDelights from the Garden of Eden (2003; Author House) was her first cookbook.

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Adult Non-Fiction 

Kisses from a Distance
By Raff Ellis
(Cune Press)

Raff Ellis, a prolific writer of short stories, essays, and magazine articles, is a former business executive now living in Florida. Ellis delved deeply into family archives to create Kisses from a Distance, his first full-length work.

The book was inspired by the discovery, among the author’s mother’s personal effects after her 1992 death, of 200 letters from family and friends in Lebanon. The letters dated to 1925 and afforded the author a glimpse into the thoughts and travails that his parents’ families and friends experienced over the years. The discovery reawakened long-dormant stories he had heard in his youth and provided the spark that ignited Ellis’ eight-year journey to examine his heritage and discover the truth of those stories.

The tale begins in 1885 at a remote mountain convent where the author’s grandmother was given into a marriage that she neither anticipated nor desired. Kisses from a Distance chronicles her unhappy marriage, and her husband’s tragic attempt to find success in America. Their particular story plays out against the struggle and suffering of oppressive Ottoman rule and the ravages of World War I. The reader is taken on a journey that traces the results of that fateful incident and the consequences of peace, war, famine, and pestilence on his family and the Lebanese population in general.

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