2018 Arab American Book Award Winners

(Books published in 2017)


Fiction Salt Houses by Hala Alyan
The Evelyn Shakir
Non-Fiction Award
The Rise of the Arab-American Left: Activists, Allies, and Their Fight Against Imperialism and Racism, 1960s–1980s by Pamela E. Pennock
The George Ellenbogen Poetry Award The January Children by Safia Elhillo

Honorable Mentions
Non-Fiction Sexagon: Muslims, France, and the Sexualization of National Culture by Mehammed Amadeus Mack
Poetry Water & Salt by Lena Khalaf Tuffaha
2018 Arab American Book Awards Celebration  

This year’s winners were honored during an event at the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, Mich., on Nov. 9, 2018.



Salt Houses
By Hala Alyan
(New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017)

On the eve of her daughter Alia’s wedding, Salma reads the girl’s future in a cup of coffee dregs. She sees an unsettled life for Alia and her children; she also sees travel, and luck. While she chooses to keep her predictions to herself that day, they will all soon come to pass when the family is uprooted in the wake of the Six-Day War of 1967. The novel follows Alia and her family members as they navigate life in the Palestinian diaspora, moving between Kuwait, Beirut, Paris, Boston and beyond, confronting that most devastating of truths: you can’t go home again.


Hala Alyan is a Palestinian American poet, novelist and clinical psychologist whose work has appeared in numerous journals including The Missouri ReviewPrairie Schooner and Colorado Review. Alyan won the Arab American Book Award in Poetry in 2013 for her collection Atrium. She resides in Brooklyn with her husband.


The Evelyn Shakir Non-Fiction Award

The Rise of the Arab-American Left: Activists, Allies, and Their Fight Against Imperialism and Racism, 1960s–1980s
By Pamela E. Pennock
(Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2017)


In this ground-breaking history of Arab American activism in the 1960s, Pamela Pennock brings to the forefront one of the most overlooked minority groups in the history of American social movements. Focusing on the ideas and strategies of key Arab American organizations and examining the emerging alliances between Arab American and other anti-imperialist and antiracist movements, Pennock sheds new light on the role of Arab Americans in the social change of the era.

Pamela Pennock is Professor of History at the University of Michigan–Dearborn.



The George Ellenbogen Poetry Award

The January Children
By Safia Elhillo
(Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2017)

The January Children depicts displacement and longing while also questioning accepted truths about geography, history, nationhood, and home. The poems mythologize family histories until they break open, using them to explore aspects of Sudan’s history of colonial occupation, dictatorship, and diaspora. Several of the poems speak to the late Egyptian singer Abdelhalim Hafez, who addressed many of his songs to the asmarani – an Arabic term of endearment for a brown-skinned or dark-skinned person. Elhillo explores Arabness and Africanness and the tensions generated by a hyphenated identity in those two worlds.

Safia Elhillo – Sudanese by way of Washington, D.C. – holds a BA from NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study and an MFA in poetry from the New School. She is a recipient of the 2015 Brunel International African Poetry Prize and the 2016 Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poets. She has received fellowships from Cave Canem, The Conversation, and Crescendo Literary and The Poetry Foundation’s Poetry Incubator. Elhillo’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in POETRY Magazine, Callaloo, and The Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-day series, among others. With Fatimah Asghar, she is co-editor of the anthology Halal If You Hear Me (Haymarket Books, 2019).

2018 Honorable Mentions

Honorable Mention – Non-Fiction

Sexagon: Muslims, France, and the Sexualization of National Culture
By Mehammed Amadeus Mack
(New York: Fordham University Press, 2017)

In contemporary France, particularly in the banlieues of Paris, the figure of the young, virile, hypermasculine Muslim looms large. So large, in fact, it often supersedes liberal secular society’s understanding of gender and sexuality altogether. Engaging the nexus of race, gender, nation, and sexuality, Sexagon studies the broad politicization of Franco-Arab identity in the context of French culture and its assumptions about appropriate modes of sexual and gender expression, both gay and straight.

Mehammed Amadeus Mack is Assistant Professor of French Studies and Program Committee Member in the Study of Women and Gender at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts.



Honorable Mention – Poetry

Water & Salt
By Lena Khalaf Tuffaha
(Pasadena, CA: Red Hen Press, 2017)

The poems in Water & Salt travel across borders between cultures and languages, between the present and the living past. These poems alternately rage, laugh, celebrate and grieve, singing in the voices of people ravaged by cycles of war and news coverage and inviting the reader to see the human lives lived beyond the headlines. Aptly titled, Water & Salt gracefully captures the mundane beauty and horror of Arab life in equal parts while interrogating meaning making while engaging historical contexts.

Lena Khalaf Tuffaha has lived the experiences of first-generation American, immigrant, and expatriate. Her heritage is Palestinian, Jordanian, and Syrian and she has lived in and traveled across the Arab world. She writes poetry, essays and translations. Tuffaha is an MFA graduate from Pacific Lutheran University’s Rainier Writing Workshop and lives with her husband and daughters in Redmond, Washington.

All Rights Reserved. 2022 Arab American National Museum