2022 ARAB AMERICAN BOOK AWARD WINNERS

(Books published in 2021)
WINNERS

 

Fiction Bride of the Sea
Eman Quotah
(Tin House)

 

The Evelyn Shakir
Non-Fiction Award
Don’t Forget Us Here
Mansoor Adayfe
(Hachette Books)

Return to Ruin: Iraqi Narratives of Exile and Nostalgia
Zainab Saleh
(Stanford University Press)

 

The George Ellenbogen
Poetry Award
The Wild Fox of Yemen
Threa Almontaser
(Graywolf Press)

 

Children/Young Adult Home is Not a Country
Safia Elhillo
(Penguin Random House/Make Me a World)
HONORABLE MENTIONS

 

Non-Fiction Arab American Women: Representation and Refusal
Edited by Michael W. Suleiman, Suad Joseph and Louise Cainkar
(Syracuse University Press)

 

Poetry The Good Arabs
Eli Tareq Bechelany-Lynch
(Metonymy Press)

 


WINNERS

Fiction Award

Bride of the Sea
Eman Quotah
(Tin House)

During a snowy Cleveland February, newlywed university students Muneer and Saeedah are expecting their first child, and he is harboring a secret: the word divorce is whispering in his ear. Soon, their marriage will end, and Muneer will return to Saudi Arabia, while Saeedah remains in Cleveland with their daughter, Hanadi. Consumed by a growing fear of losing her daughter, Saeedah disappears with the little girl, leaving Muneer to desperately search for his daughter for years. The repercussions of the abduction ripple outward, not only changing the lives of Hanadi and her parents, but also their interwoven family and friends—those who must choose sides and hide their own deeply guarded secrets.

And when Hanadi comes of age, she finds herself at the center of this conflict, torn between the world she grew up in and a family across the ocean. How can she exist between parents, between countries?

Eman Quotah’s Bride of the Sea is a spellbinding debut of colliding cultures, immigration, religion, and family; an intimate portrait of loss and healing; and, ultimately, a testament to the ways we find ourselves inside love, distance, and heartbreak.

Eman Quotah is the author of the novel Bride of the Sea. She grew up in Jidda, Saudi Arabia, and Cleveland Heights, Ohio. Her writing has appeared in The Washington Post, USA Today, The Toast, The Establishment, Book Riot, Literary Hub, Electric Literature and other publications. She lives with her family near Washington, D.C.


The Evelyn Shakir Non-Fiction Award

Don’t Forget Us Here
Mansoor Adayfe
(Graywolf Press)

This moving, eye-opening memoir of an innocent man detained at Guantánamo Bay for fifteen years tells a story of humanity in the unlikeliest of places and an unprecedented look at life at Guantánamo.

At the age of 18, Mansoor Adayfi left his home in Yemen for a cultural mission to Afghanistan. He never returned. Kidnapped by warlords and then sold to the US after 9/11, he was disappeared to Guantánamo Bay, where he spent the next 14 years as Detainee #441.

Don't Forget Us Here tells two coming-of-age stories in parallel: a makeshift island outpost becoming the world's most notorious prison and an innocent young man emerging from its darkness. Arriving as a stubborn teenager, Mansoor survived the camp's infamous interrogation program and became a feared and hardened resistance fighter leading prison riots and hunger strikes. With time though, he grew into the man nicknamed "Smiley Troublemaker": a student, writer, advocate, and historian. While at Guantánamo, he wrote a series of manuscripts he sent as letters to his attorneys, which he then transformed into this vital chronicle, in collaboration with award-winning writer Antonio Aiello. With unexpected warmth and empathy, Mansoor unwinds a narrative of fighting for hope and survival in unimaginable circumstances, illuminating the limitlessness of the human spirit. And through his own story, he also tells Guantánamo's story, offering an unprecedented window into one of the most secretive places on earth and the people—detainees and guards alike—who lived there with him.

Twenty years after 9/11, Guantánamo remains open, and at a moment of due reckoning, Mansoor Adayfi helps us understand what actually happened there—both the horror and the beauty—a stunning record of an experience we cannot afford to forget.

Mansoor Adayfi is a writer, advocate and former Guantánamo Bay detainee, held for over 14 years without charges as an enemy combatant. Adayfi was released to Serbia in 2016, where he struggles to make a new life for himself and to shed the designation of a suspected terrorist. He has published several New York Times pieces, including a "Modern Love" column. He wrote the introduction to the 2017-2018 exhibit, "Ode to the Sea: Art from Guantánamo Bay," and contributed to the scholarly volume, Witnessing Torture. His graphic narrative, "Caged Lives" was published by The Nib and is included in the anthology Guantanamo Voices. He participated in the creation of the award-winning radio documentary "The Art of Now: Guantánamo" for BBC radio and the CBC podcast Love Me, which aired on NPR's Snap Judgment. Regularly interviewed by international news media about his experiences at Guantánamo and life after, he was also featured in the PBS Frontline episode "Out of Gitmo." In 2019, he won the Richard J. Margolis Award for nonfiction writers of social justice journalism. He is also one of the Sundance Institute’s 2019 Episodic Lab Fellows, through which he is working to bring Don’t Forget Us Here to television.


The Evelyn Shakir Non-Fiction Award

Return to Ruin: Iraqi Narratives of Exile and Nostalgia
Zainab Saleh
(Stanford University Press)

With the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Iraqis abroad, hoping to return one day to a better Iraq, became uncertain exiles. Return to Ruin tells the human story of this exile in the context of decades of U.S. imperial interests in Iraq—from the U.S. backing of the 1963 Ba'th coup and support of Saddam Hussein's regime in the 1980s, to the 1991 Gulf War and 2003 invasion and occupation.

Zainab Saleh shares the experiences of Iraqis she met over fourteen years of fieldwork in Iraqi London—offering stories from an aging communist nostalgic for the streets she marched since childhood, a devout Shi'i dreaming of holy cities and family graves, and newly uprooted immigrants with fresh memories of loss, as well as her own. Focusing on debates among Iraqi exiles about what it means to be an Iraqi after years of displacement, Saleh weaves a narrative that draws attention to a once-dominant, vibrant Iraqi cultural landscape and social and political shifts among the diaspora after decades of authoritarianism, war, and occupation in Iraq. Through it all, this book illuminates how Iraqis continue to fashion a sense of belonging and imagine a future, built on the shards of these shattered memories.

Zainab Saleh is interested in questions of empire and colonialism, belonging and subjectivity, migration and diaspora, and violence and knowledge production. In her scholarship, she tries to examine how formations of subjectivity, understandings of temporality, and the construction of a sense of home in a diasporic context have been situated in structures of power and in shifting terrains of class, political, gender, and religious sensibilities. This interest in power and imperial entanglements, which marked a departure from the concept of culture in anthropological theories, is a window to critique dominant Orientalist conceptualizations about Iraq and culturalist interpretations of national events, which focused on the persistence of primordial affiliations. Her scholarship and training have been informed by the fields of anthropology, Middle East studies, diaspora studies, postcolonial studies, and gender studies.


The George Ellenbogen Poetry Award

The Wild Fox of Yemen
Threa Almontaser
(Graywolf Press)

By turns aggressively reckless and fiercely protective, always guided by faith and ancestry, Threa Almontaser’s incendiary debut asks how mistranslation can be a form of self-knowledge and survival. A love letter to the country and people of Yemen, a portrait of young Muslim womanhood in New York after 9/11, and an extraordinarily composed examination of what it means to carry in the body the echoes of what came before, Almontaser’s polyvocal collection sneaks artifacts to and from worlds, repurposing language and adapting to the space between cultures. Half-crunk and hungry, speakers move with the force of what cannot be contained by the limits of the American imagination, and instead invest in troublemaking and trickery, navigate imperial violence across multiple accents and anthems, and apply gang signs in henna, utilizing any means necessary to form a semblance of home. In doing so, The Wild Fox of Yemen fearlessly rides the tension between carnality and tenderness in the unruly human spirit.

Threa Almontaser is the critically acclaimed author of the National Book Award honored poetry collection, The Wild Fox of Yemen. Her work has been supported by National Endowment for The Arts, the Fulbright Program, and the Rosati Writer Program at Duke. She holds a Master of Fine Arts and a TESOL certification from North Carolina State University. An editor for Tinderbox Poetry Journal and a juror for both the Pen America Writing for Justice Fellowship and the Scholastic Arts and Writing Awards, she focuses primarily on promoting the creative arts. She currently teaches English to immigrants and refugees in her area. When not storytelling or coming up with conspiracy theories, she attends comic conventions, trains her koi to do tricks, and keeps an eye out for pretty rocks. She believes writing should not only entertain, but provoke, and can be found most likely sitting hunched over her desk thinking obsessively about the placement of commas.


Children/Young Adult

Home is Not a Country
Safia Elhillo
(Penguin Random House/Make Me a World)

Nima wishes she were someone else. She doesn’t feel understood by her mother, who grew up in a different land. She doesn’t feel accepted in her suburban town; yet somehow, she isn’t different enough to belong elsewhere. Her best friend, Haitham, is the only person with whom she can truly be herself. Until she can’t, and suddenly her only refuge is gone. As the ground is pulled out from under her, Nima must grapple with the phantom of a life not chosen—the name her parents meant to give her at birth—Yasmeen. But that other name, that other girl, might be more real than Nima knows. And the life Nima wishes were someone else’s. . . is one she will need to fight for with a fierceness she never knew she possessed.

Sudanese by way of D.C., Safia Elhillo is the author of The January Children and Home Is Not a Country and co-editor of the anthology Halal If You Hear Me. Winner of the Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poets, the Arab American Book Award, and the Brunel International African Poetry Prize, she is also the recipient of a Wallace Stegner Fellowship from Stanford University, a Cave Canem Fellowship, and a Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellowship from The Poetry Foundation. Her work has appeared in POETRY Magazine, The Atlantic, and The Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-Day series, among others, and has been translated into several languages.


HONORABLE MENTIONS

Non-Fiction

Arab American Women: Representation and Refusal
Edited by Michael W. Suleiman, Suad Joseph and Louise Cainkar
(Syracuse University Press)

Arab American women have played an essential role in shaping their homes, their communities, and their country for centuries. Their contributions, often marginalized academically and culturally, are receiving long- overdue attention with the emerging interdisciplinary field of Arab American women’s studies. The collected essays in this volume capture the history and significance of Arab American women, addressing issues of migration, transformation, and reformation as these women invented occupations, politics, philosophies, scholarship, literature, arts, and, ultimately, themselves. Arab American women brought culture and absorbed culture; they brought relationships and created relationships; they brought skills and talents and developed skills and talents. They resisted inequities, refused compliance, and challenged representation. They engaged in politics, civil society, the arts, education, the market, and business. And they told their own stories. These histories, these genealogies, these narrations that are so much a part of the American experiment are chronicled in this volume, providing an indispensable resource for scholars and activists.

Michael W. Suleiman was a University Distinguished Professor in the Department of Political Science at Kansas State University. He is the author of numerous books, including Arab Americans: Continuity and Change.

Suad Joseph is Distinguished Research Professor of Anthropology and Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies at the University of California, Davis. She is the editor of Arab Family Studies: Critical Reviews.

Louise Cainkar is Professor of Sociology and Social Welfare and Justice at Marquette University. She is the author of Homeland Insecurity: The Arab American and Muslim American Experience After 9/11, and co-editor of Sajjilu Arab American: A Reader in SWANA Studies.


Poetry

The Good Arabs
Eli Tareq Bechelany-Lynch
(Metonymy Press)

Swinging from post-explosion Beirut to a Parc-Extension balcony in summer, the verse and prose poems in The Good Arabs ground the reader in place, language, and the body. Peeling and rinsing radishes. Dancing as a pre-teen to Nancy Ajram. Being drenched in stares on the city bus. The collection is an interlocking and rich offering of the speaker’s communities, geographical surroundings both expansive and precise, and family both biological and chosen.

The Good Arabs gifts the reader with insight into cycles and repetition in ourselves and our broken nations. This genre-defying collection maps Arab and trans identity through the immensity of experience felt in one body, the sorrow of citizens let down by their countries, and the garbage crisis in Lebanon. Ultimately, it shows how we might love amid dismay, adore the pungent and the ugly, and exist in our multiplicity across spaces.

Eli Tareq El Bechelany-Lynch is a queer Arab poet living in Tio’tia:ke, unceded Kanien’kehá:ka territory (Montreal). Their work has appeared in The Best Canadian Poetry 2018 anthology, GUTS, carte blanche, the Shade Journal, The New Quarterly, Arc Poetry Magazine, Room Magazine, and elsewhere. They participated in the Banff Centre’s ‘Centering Ourselves’ BIPOC residency, and they were longlisted for the CBC Poetry Prize in 2019.

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