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Winners of 2015 Arab American Book Awards announced - News - Press and Guide

posted on: Aug 12, 2015

In an unprecedented decision, judges for the 2015 Arab American Book Awards have selected multiple winners in the fiction category.

The two winners – Laila Lalami’s The Moor’s Account and Rabih Alameddine’s An Unnecessary Woman – represent not only the best in Arab American writing, but also have been widely lauded in mainstream literary circles. The novels were recognized earlier this year as finalists for the National Book Award (Alameddine) and the Pulitzer Prize (Lalami), among other distinguished awards.

“This has been an extraordinary year for Arab American authors,” says Kirsten Terry-Murphy, librarian at the Arab American National Museum, which organizes the annual award program. “The fact that the judges have selected two winners speaks to the high-caliber work being produced.”

Alameddine’s “An Unnecessary Woman” is the story of Aaliya, a reclusive retired bookseller, whose musings on literature, philosophy, and life in Beirut add wry humor to dark memories and a present crisis.

Lalami’s book, which will be released in paperback on Aug. 18, brings to life Mustafa al-Zamori, a Moroccan slave, through an imagined memoir that traces his journey on the ship of a conquistador to a perilous trek across Florida and beyond. The subject has a particular connection to the Museum, which is home to a permanent exhibit about Zamori, the first recorded Arab to set foot in North America.

The two winning novels, along with awardees in the Non-fiction, Poetry, and Children’s/Young Adult categories, will be honored during the Arab American Book Award ceremony and reception Oct. 29, in The Annex at the Arab American National Museum, 13624 Michigan Ave. in Dearborn. The event is free and open to the public; RSVPs will be accepted beginning in early September.

This national literary competition – the only one of its kind in the United States – is designed to draw attention to books by and about Arab Americans. It is one of many museum programs that draw attention to the achievements and contributions of Arab Americans and help build community through the arts. This year’s Book Awards ceremony is also part of the museum’s special slate of 10th anniversary programming.

“Throughout our 10-year history, sharing the stories of Arab Americans has been at the core of the museum’s mission,” said Devon Akmon, AANM director. “The Book Award program is an opportunity to honor and support authors who are telling stories in diverse genres, from creative writing to ground-breaking historical research.”

To increase readership and encourage book clubs and educators to select books by Arab Americans, the museum recently published its inaugural set of Reading & Discussion Guides for Book Award-winning titles. Guides for the 2014 winners, including Sinan Antoon’sThe Corpse Washer, are available for free download at Reading guides for the 2015 winning titles will be available soon.

The winners of the 2015 Arab American Book Awards are:

WINNERS: Fiction Award

An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine

The Moor’s Account by Laila Lalami

WINNER: Evelyn Shakir Non-Fiction Award

Old Islam in Detroit: Rediscovering the Muslim American Past by Sally Howell

WINNER: George Ellenbogen Poetry Award

Tahrir Suite by Matthew Shenoda

WINNER: Children’s/Young Adult Award

The Turtle of Oman by Naomi Shihab Nye

This year’s authors reside in California, Michigan, Illinois, Texas, Philadelphia and Indiana. Several are expected to attend the Oct. 29 ceremony, including Laila Lalami (The Moor’s Account), Sally Howell (Old Islam in Detroit), and Matthew Shenoda (Tahrir Suite).

The winning titles were chosen by genre-specific review committees comprised of selected readers from across the country, including respected authors, university professors, artists, librarians and poets. Winning titles have ranged from educational and academic books on the Arab American experience to mainstream fiction by an Arab American author on a non-Arab theme.

The Evelyn Shakir Non-Fiction Award was named to honor the legacy and contributions to Arab American scholarship by Evelyn Shakir, who died of breast cancer in 2010. In addition to winning the 2008 Arab American Book Award for Fiction for Remember Me to Lebanon: Stories of Lebanese Women in America (Syracuse University Press, 2007), Prof. Shakir extensively researched the history of Arab women and wrote the groundbreaking work Bint Arab: Arab and Arab American Women in the United States (Praeger, 1997). Shakir’s longtime partner, poet George Ellenbogen, established the named award in collaboration with the Arab American National Museum. In appreciation of Ellenbogen’s continued support for the Book Award program, the Poetry category award now bears his name.