Best Arab American Books of 2018
By: Ivey Noojin/Arab America Contributing Writer
Only recently has there been a push for more Arabic literature in the United States, and therefore celebrations of Arab American writers are also a new development. The first and only museum devoted to Arab American culture opened in 2005, called the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, and in 2007 it started to collected data about the literature being produced by members of its community throughout the country. This is the only organization that consistently tracks Arab American books to highlight their accomplishments.
Last year, Congress acknowledged April as Arab American Heritage Month, which means soon there will be more of a focus on the literature produced by this community in the United States. Since then, several online reading sites have published lists of books to read to celebrate this month, such as BookRiot, Bustle, and BookBub.
This acknowledgement and celebration of the work that Arab American novelists and poets do will increasingly become more popular, of which Arab American is a proud and happy contributor.
Arab American National Museum Winners
The Arab American National Museum published a list of its winners and honorable nominees for Arab American books of 2018. There will be a ceremony to officially celebrate their accomplishments in Dearborn, Michigan on Nov. 9.
Winner: Salt Houses by Hala Alyan
Salt Houses is a book about a Palestinian family whose life is uprooted after the Six-Day War of 1967, which was the third conflict between the Arab world, including Egypt, Jordan and Syria, and Israel. The novel follows a family that that to move around the world to escape the persecution they face at home.
Hala Alyan is a Palestinian American poet and clinical psychologist. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree from the American University of Beirut and her Master’s degree from Columbia University. Alyan won the Arab American Book Award in Poetry in 2013 for Atrium (2012) and the Crab Orchard Series in poetry for Hijra (2016). She currently lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. with her husband.
Winner: The Rise of the Arab-American Left: Activists, Allies, and Their Fight Against Imperialism and Racism, 1960s-1980s by Pamela E. Pennock
This novel highlights Arab American activism in the 1960s. It focuses on the ideas and strategies of Arab American organization, along with the alliances that were being created between antiracist and anti-imperialist movements.
Pamela Pennock is a professor of history, Arab American studies and women’s and gender studies at the University of Michigan in Dearborn.
Honorable Mention: Sexagon: Muslims, France, and the Sexualization of National Culture by Mehammed Amadeus Mack
Sexagon discusses the politicization of the Franco-Arab identity within French culture and also its assumptions toward sexuality and gender. This novel is in direct response to the hyper masculine Muslim figure show across France, since this representation is at odds with the progressive way of viewing gender and sexuality within the country’s society.
Mehammed Amadeus Mack is an assistant professor at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. He teaches French and is a program committee members of women’s and gender studies. He received a doctorate in French and comparative literature from Columbia University and worked as a journalist at LA Weekly before becoming a professor.
Winner: The January Children by Safia Elhillo
This series of poetry depicts the often juxtaposing identities of being African and Arab. Many poems explore the aspects of dictatorship, diaspora, and colonial occupation of Sudan. Others address the influence of Abdelhalim Hafez, an Egyptian singer popular from the 1950s-1970s.
Safia Elhillo is a Sudanese American from Washington, D.C. She earned her BA from NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study and a Master of Fine Arts’ degree in poetry. She also once coached the DC Youth Slam Poetry team.
Honorable Mention: Water & Salt by Lena Khalad Tuffaha
This collection of poetry highlights and beauty and horror of Arab life within the past and present. Water & Salt gives a voice to those across arbitrary borders between cultures and languages.
Lena Khalaf Tuffaha is an American poet and translator with Palestinian, Jordanian and Syrian heritage. She received a Master of Fine Art’s degree from Pacific Lutheran University’s Rainer Writing Program. She currently lives in Redmond, Washington with her husband and daughters.
2018 Releases of Arab American Books
Tunsiya Amrikiya by Leila Chatti
This collection of poems explores the importance of family and the nuances of identity and belonging. The title highlights two different identities: being a Tunisian and American female.
Leila Chatti is a Tunisian American poet. She received a B.A. from the Residential College of Arts and Humanities at Michigan State University and a Masters of Art’s degree from North Carolina State University. During her master’s degree program, she was awarded the Academy of American Poets prize. Chatti is currently the consulting poet editor at the Raleigh Review and lives in Cleveland, Ohio.
Footnotes in the Order of Disappearance by Fady Joudah
This is a novel of love poems from the author towards the people in his life and the world. Critics have declared it innovative in its movement and syntax.
Fady Joudah is a Palestinian American physician, poet and translator. He was born in Texas but grew up in Libya and Saudi Arabia. He also worked in Doctors Without Borders in Zambia and Sudan. Joudah currently lives with his family in Houston, working as a physician of internal medicine.
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