2021 ARAB AMERICAN BOOK AWARD WINNERS

(Books published in 2020)
WINNERS

 

Fiction Against the Loveless World
Susan Abulhawa
(Atria Books)

 

The Evelyn Shakir
Non-Fiction Award
Arab Routes: Pathways to Syrian California
Sarah M.A. Gualtieri
(Stanford University Press)

Stories My Father Told Me
Helen Zughaib and Elia Zughaib
(Cune Press)

 

The George Ellenbogen
Poetry Award
Birthright
George Abraham
(Button Poetry)

Washes, Prays
Noor Naga
(Penguin Random House)

 

Children/Young Adult The Arabic Quilt
Aya Khalil, Illustrated by Anait Semirdzhyan
(Tilbury House)

Farah Rocks Fifth Grade
Susan Muaddi Darraj
(Capestone)

 

HONORABLE MENTIONS

 

Fiction Alligator And Other Stories
Dima Alzayat
(Two Dollar Radio)

 

Non-Fiction Articulations Of Resistance: Transformative Practices in Contemporary Arab American Poetry
Sirène Harb
(Routledge)

 


WINNERS

Fiction Award

Against the Loveless World
Susan Abulhawa
(Atria Books)

As Nahr sits, locked away in solitary confinement, she spends her days reflecting on the dramatic events that landed her in prison in a country she barely knows. Born in Kuwait in the 70s to Palestinian refugees, she dreamed of falling in love with the perfect man, raising children, and possibly opening her own beauty salon. Instead, the man she thinks she loves jilts her after a brief marriage, her family teeters on the brink of poverty, she’s forced to prostitute herself, and the Us invasion of Iraq makes her a refugee, as her parents had been. After trekking through another temporary home in Jordan, she lands in Palestine, where she finally makes a home, falls in love, and her destiny unfolds under Israeli occupation. Nahr’s subversive humor and moral ambiguity will resonate with fans of My Sister, The Serial Killer, and her dark, contemporary struggle places her as the perfect sister to Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Body and Other Parties.Written with Susan Abulhawa’s distinctive “richly detailed, beautiful, and resonant” (Publishers Weekly) prose, this powerful novel presents a searing, darkly funny, and wholly unique portrait of a Palestinian woman who refuses to be a victim.

Susan Abulhawa is a Palestinian-American writer and political activist. She is the author of Mornings in Jenin—translated into thirty languages—and The Blue Between Sky and Water. Born to refugees of the Six Day War of 1967, she moved to the United States as a teenager, graduated in biomedical science, and established a career in medical science. In July 2001, Abulhawa founded Playgrounds for Palestine, a non-governmental children’s organization dedicated to upholding the Right to Play for Palestinian children. She lives in Pennsylvania.


The Evelyn Shakir Non-Fiction Award

Arab Routes: Pathways to Syrian California
Sarah M.A. Gualtieri
(Stanford University Press)

Los Angeles is home to the largest population of people of Middle Eastern origin and descent in the United States. Since the late nineteenth century, Syrian and Lebanese migration, in particular, to Southern California has been intimately connected to and through Latin America. Arab Routes uncovers the stories of this Syrian American community, one both Arabized and Latinized, to reveal important cross-border and multiethnic solidarities in Syrian California.

Sarah M. A. Gualtieri reconstructs the early Syrian connections through California, Texas, Mexico, and Lebanon. She reveals the Syrian interests in the defense of the Mexican American teens charged in the 1942 Sleepy Lagoon murder, in actor Danny Thomas's rise to prominence in LA's Syrian cultural festivals, and in more recent activities of the grandchildren of immigrants to reclaim a sense of Arabness. Gualtieri reinscribes Syrians into Southern California history through her examination of powerful images and texts, augmented with interviews with descendants of immigrants. Telling the story of how Syrians helped forge a global Los Angeles, Arab Routes counters a long-held stereotype of Arabs as outsiders and underscores their longstanding place in American culture and in interethnic coalitions, past and present.


The Evelyn Shakir Non-Fiction Award

Stories My Father Told Me
Helen Zughaib and Elia Zughaib
(Cune Press)

The stories in this book recount events from Elia Zughaib’s Syrian and Lebanese childhood in the 1930s and early 1940s, in what are now the Lebanese villages of Marjayoun, Zahle and Kfeir. After sharing his stories in family settings over the years, Elia finally agreed to set them down in written form at the urging of his daughter, the artist Helen Zughaib, who contributed the title to this volume. The accompanying artwork was created by Helen. The result is a collaboration of story and image by father and daughter, celebrating the richness of Syrian and Lebanese life and culture in a bygone era.

Helen Zughaib was born in 1959 in Beirut, Lebanon, where her father was posted as a diplomat. She lived in the Middle East and Europe before coming to the U.S. in 1978 to study at Syracuse University, where she received her BFA from the School of Visual and Performing Arts. Helen’s work has been widely exhibited in the U.S. and abroad. Her paintings can be found in private and public collections, including the White House, Library of Congress, World Bank, the U.S. Embassy in Iraq, and the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn. Helen lives in Washington with her husband Andy and their cats.

Elia Zughaib was born in 1927 in Damascus and grew up in Syria and Lebanon before coming to the U.S. in 1946 to study at Syracuse University. He received his Ph.D. in political science from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs and joined the United States Foreign Service in 1959. He served in Lebanon, Iraq, Kuwait and France until his retirement in 1978 brought him back to Virginia where he lives with his wife, Georgia.


The George Ellenbogen Poetry Award

Birthright
George Abraham
(Button Poetry)

Abraham’s highly anticipated debut constructs a dialogue in which “every pronoun is a Free Palestine.” Through poems of immense emotion, and the use of alluring form, Abraham crafts work that examines what we come to own by existing. Birthright begs readers to stay, to stay lucid, to stay alive, to stay present in this very moment; as it knows now is all we are guaranteed. As trauma seeps through generations, can the body deconstruct its own inheritance? In a world that only takes, what is owed? What is your Birthright, and where is home?

George Abraham (they/he) is a Palestinian American poet and Bioengineering Ph.D. candidate at Harvard University. They are the author of Birthright (Button Poetry, 2020), and the chapbooks: the specimen’s apology (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2019) and al youm (TAR, 2017). He is a Kundiman, Watering Hole, And Poetry Incubator Fellow, winner of the 2018 Cosmonauts Avenue Poetry Prize, and recipient of the Best Poet title from the College Union Poetry Slam International. Their work has appeared or is forthcoming online with The Paris Review, Tin House, LitHub, Boston Review, The Rumpus, and in anthologies such as Bettering American Poetry and Nepantla.


The George Ellenbogen Poetry Award

Washes, Prays
Noor Naga
(Penguin Random House)

Coocoo is a young immigrant woman in Toronto. Her faith is worn threadbare after years of bargaining with God to end her loneliness and receiving no answer. Then she meets her mirror-image; Muhammad is a professor and father of two. He’s also married. Heartbreaking and hilarious, this verse-novel chronicles Coocoo’s spiraling descent: the transformation of her love into something at first desperate and obsessive, then finally cringing and animal, utterly without grace. Her best friend, Nouf, remains by her side throughout, and together they face the growing contradictions of Coocoo’s life. What does it mean to pray while giving your body to a man who cannot keep it? How long can a homeless love survive on the streets? These are some of the questions this verse-novel swishes around in its mouth.

Noor Naga is an Alexandrian writer who was born in Philadelphia, raised in Dubai, studied in Toronto, and now lives in Alexandria. She is the winner of the 2017 Bronwen Wallace Award, the 2019 Disquiet Fiction Prize, and the 2019 Graywolf Press Africa Prize. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Granta, The Walrus, The Common, The Sultan’s Seal, POETRY, and more. Her debut novel, If an Egyptian Cannot Speak English, is forthcoming from Graywolf Press in April 2022.


Children/Young Adult

The Arabic Quilt
Aya Khalil, Illustrated by Anait Semirdzhyan
(Tilbury House)

Kanzi's family has moved from Egypt to America, and on her first day in a new school, what she wants more than anything is to fit in. Maybe that's why she forgets to take the kofta sandwich her mother has made for her lunch, but that backfires when mama shows up at school with the sandwich. Mama wears a hijab and calls her daughter habibti (dear one). When she leaves, the teasing starts. This authentic story with beautiful illustrations includes a glossary of Arabic words and a presentation of Arabic letters with their phonetic English equivalents.

Aya Khalil holds a master's degree in Education and is a freelance journalist. Her debut picture book, The Arabic Quilt, is based on events from her childhood, when she immigrated at the age of one to the U.S. from Egypt. She is also the author of The Night Before Eid, which comes out in 2023. She was named one of Arab America Foundation's 40 under 40 in 2021. She lives in Northwest Ohio with her husband, Abdalrahman, and their three children.

Anait Semirdzhayan lived in diverse cultures in numerous countries before settling in the Seattle area with her husband. The Arabic Quilt is the fifth picture book she has illustrated.


Children/Young Adult

Farah Rocks Fifth Grade
Susan Muaddi Darraj
(Capestone)

Farah and her best friend, Allie Liu, are getting excited to turn in their applications to the Magnet Academy, where they both hope to attend sixth grade. But when new girl Dana Denver shows up, Farah's world is turned upside down. As dana starts bullying Farah's little brother, Samir, Farah begins to second-guess her choice to leave him behind at Harbortown Elementary/Middle School. determined to handle it on her own, Farah comes up with a plan—a plan that involves lying to those closest to her. Will her lies catch up with her, or can Farah find a way to defeat the bully and rock fifth grade?

Susan Muaddi Darraj is an award-winning author of more than ten books, including two short story collections. She is an associate professor of English at Harford Community College in Bel Air, Maryland, and she also teaches creative writing at Johns Hopkins University and Fairfield University. A native Philadelphian, she currently lives in Baltimore. She loves books, coffee, and baseball, and she’s mildly obsessed with stationery supplies.


HONORABLE MENTIONS

Fiction

Alligator And Other Stories
Dima Alzayat
(Two Dollar Radio)

The award-winning stories in Dima Alzayat’s collection are luminous and tender, whether dealing with a woman performing burial rites for her brother in “Ghusl,” or a great-aunt struggling to explain cultural identity to her niece in “Once We Were Syrians.” Alzayat’s stories are rich and relatable, chronicling a sense of displacement through everyday scenarios. There is the intern in pre-#MeToo Hollywood of “Only Those Who Struggle Succeed,” the New York City children on the lookout for a place to play on the heels of Etan Patz’s kidnapping in “Disappearance,” and the “dangerous” women of “Daughters of Manāt” who struggle to assert their independence. The title story, “Alligator,” is a masterpiece of historical reconstruction and intergenerational trauma, told in an epistolary format through social media posts, newspaper clippings, and testimonials, that starts with the true story of the lynching of a Syrian immigrant couple by law officers in small-town Florida. Placed in a wider context of U.S. racial violence, the extrajudicial deaths, and what happens to the couple’s children and their children’s children in the years after, challenges the demands of American assimilation and its limits. Alligator and Other Stories is haunting, spellbinding, and unforgettable, while marking Dima Alzayat’s arrival as a tremendously gifted new talent.

Dima Alzayat was born in Damascus, Syria, and grew up in San Jose, California. Her short story collection, Alligator and Other Stories (2020), was published by Two Dollar Radio (U.S.) and Picador (U.K.), and has been longlisted for the 2021 PEN/Robert W. Bingham Award for Debut Short Story Collection and the 2021 Swansea University Dylan Thomas Prize. She is the winner of the 2019 ALCS Tom-Gallon Trust Award, a 2018 Northern Writers’ Award, the 2017 Bristol Short Story Prize, the 2015 Bernice Slote Award, runner-up in the 2018 Deborah Rogers Award and the 2018 Zoetrope: All-Story Competition, and was Highly Commended in the 2013 Bridport Prize. Her stories have appeared in Esquire, The Adroit Journal, Prairie Schooner, Bristol Short Story Award Anthology, Bridport Prize Anthology, and Enizagam. Her short story In the Land of Kan’an was included in artist Jenny Holzer’s 2017 projection For Aarhus and was part of Holzer’s 2017 exhibition at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. She holds a Ph.D. in Creative Writing from Lancaster University.


Non-Fiction

Articulations Of Resistance: Transformative Practices in Contemporary Arab American Poetry
Sirène Harb
(Routledge)

Using a theoretical framework located at the intersection of U.S. ethnic studies, transnational studies and postcolonial studies, Articulations of Resistance: Transformative Practices in Arab-American Poetry maps an interdisciplinary model of critical inquiry to demonstrate the intimate link and multilayered connections between poetry and resistance. In this study of contemporary Arab American poetry, Sirène Harb analyzes how resistance, defined as the force challenging the dominant, intervenes in ways of rethinking the local and the global vis-à-vis traditional paradigms of time, space, language and value.

Sirène Harb is an Associate Professor of American and Comparative Literature at the American University of Beirut.

All Rights Reserved. 2020 Arab American National Museum