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Finalists for 2015 Pulitzer, Nat’l Book Award earn fiction awards

 Public welcome at Dearborn award ceremony, reception Oct. 29

 New series of readers’ guides for winning titles introduced

 TIM,Heritage, Arab American Museum News

Dearborn, Mich. (Aug. 10, 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 (AANM), 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 Thursday, 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 ten-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’s The Corpse Washer, are available for free download at 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

Two more titles earned Honorable Mentions; details below.

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.

Scroll down or visit for information about this year’s winners and honorable mentions. A call for submissions for the 2016 awards will be issued in December.




WINNERS: Fiction Award (2)

An Unnecessary Woman

By Rabih Alameddine

New York: Grove Press, 2014

In this portrait of a reclusive woman’s late-life crisis, readers follow Aaliya Saleh’s digressive mind as it ricochets across visions of past and present Beirut. Musings on literature, philosophy, and art collide with memories of the Lebanese Civil War and Aaliya’s own volatile past, until the unthinkable interrupts Aaliya’s life of solitude and literary translation. A love letter to literature and its power to define who we are, Rabih Alameddine’s latest novel – a finalist for the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award – presents a nuanced rendering of one woman’s life in the Middle East.

Rabih Alameddine is the author of the novels Koolaids; I, the Divine; and The Hakawati. He divides his time between San Francisco and Beirut. Follow him on Twitter @RabihAlameddine.

The Moor’s Account

By Laila Lalami

New York: Pantheon Books, 2014.

In this work of historical fiction, Laila Lalami brings to life Mustafa al-Zamori, a Moroccan slave and the first African explorer of America. The imagined memoirs trace his journey on the ship of a conquistador to a perilous trek across Florida and beyond. Al-Zamori, called Estebanico by his captors, went on to travel more than 6,000 miles throughout the land that would later become the Southern United States, acting as a healer and interpreter. Lalami captures Estebanico’s voice and vision, giving us an alternate narrative for this famed expedition.

The Moor’s Account has been named a New York Times Notable Book, a Wall Street Journal Best Book of the Year, a finalist for the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, and is a nominee for the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award.

Laila Lalami is the author of the novels Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits and Secret Son, which was on the Orange Prize longlist. Her essays and opinion pieces have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, The Nation, the Guardian, the New York Times, and in many anthologies. Her work has been translated into ten languages. She is the recipient of a British Council Fellowship, a Fulbright Fellowship, and a Lannan Foundation Residency Fellowship and is currently a professor of creative writing at the University of California at Riverside. Follow her on Twitter @LailaLalami.

WINNER: Evelyn Shakir Non-Fiction Award

Old Islam in Detroit: Rediscovering the Muslim American Past

By Sally Howell

New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.

Across North America, Islam is portrayed as a religion of immigrants, converts, and cultural outsiders. Yet Muslims have been part of American society for much longer than most people realize. This book documents the history of Islam in Detroit, a city that is home to several of the nation’s oldest, most diverse Muslim communities. Howell’s work provides a new interpretation of the possibilities and limits of Muslim incorporation in American life. It shows how Islam has become American in the past and how the anxieties many new Muslim Americans and non-Muslims feel about the place of Islam in American society today are not inevitable, but are part of a dynamic process of political and religious change that is still unfolding.

Sally Howell is Assistant Professor of History and Arab American Studies at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. She is co-author of Citizenship and Crisis: Arab Detroit after 9/11 and editor of Arab Detroit 9/11: Life in the Terror Decade.

WINNER: George Ellenbogen Poetry Award

Tahrir Suite

By Matthew Shenoda

Chicago: TriQuarterly Books/Northwestern University Press, 2014.


Tahrir Suite contemplates immigration, homeland and diaspora in the 21st century. The poem cycles through the journey of two Egyptians moving across borders, languages, cultures, landscapes and political systems while their life in the U.S. diaspora evolves and their home country undergoes revolutionary change. Tahrir Suite works to capture the complicated essence of what it means to be from a specific place that is experiencing such radical change and how our understandings of “home” and “place” constantly evolve.

Matthew Shenoda’s debut collection of poems, Somewhere Else (Coffee House Press), was named one of 2005’s debut books of the year by Poets & Writers Magazine and was winner of a 2006 American Book Award. He is also the author of Seasons of Lotus, Seasons of Bone (BOA Editions Ltd.) and editor of Duppy Conqueror: New & Selected Poems by Kwame Dawes. Shenoda is Associate Professor in the Department of Creative Writing at Columbia College Chicago. Additionally, he is a founding editor of the African Poetry Book Series. He lives with his family in Evanston, Illinois.

WINNER: Children’s/Young Adult Award

The Turtle of Oman

By Naomi Shihab Nye

New York: Greenwillow Press, 2014.


The Turtle of Oman explores themes of moving, family, nature, and immigration. It tells the story of Aref Al-Amri, who must say good-bye to everything and everyone he loves in his hometown of Muscat, Oman, as his family prepares to move to Ann Arbor, Michigan. Naomi Shihab Nye’s warmth, attention to detail, and belief in the power of empathy and connection shines from every page.

Naomi Shihab Nye is a poet and anthologist and the acclaimed author of Habibi: A Novel and Sitti’s Secrets, a picture book, which was based on her own experiences visiting her beloved Sitti (grandmother) in Palestine. Her book 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East was a finalist for the National Book Award. She has taught writing and worked in schools all over the world, including in Muscat, Oman. She lives in San Antonio, Texas.

2015 Honorable Mentions


And the Time Is…: Poems, 1958-2013

By Samuel Hazo

Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2014.

In this work, Hazo casts his eye back over a career devoted to poetry. With works that are arranged loosely under the themes of love, family, and aging, this volume affirms Hazo’s status as one of the most compelling and enduring poets of his generation. Poems appearing in this collection include works that have previously appeared in the Hudson ReviewPrairie Schooner, the New York Times, and the Saturday Review.

Samuel Hazo is the director of the International Poetry Forum in Pittsburgh, where he is also McAnulty Distinguished Professor of English Emeritus at Duquesne University. His books include Stills, This Part of the World, and The Time Remaining. Among his translations are Adonis’s The Pages of Day and Night and Nadia Tueni’s Lebanon: Poems of Love and War.

HONORABLE MENTION: Children/Young Adult


The Olive Tree

By Elsa Marston (author) and Claire Ewart (illustrator

Bloomington, Ind.: Wisdom Tales Press, 2014.

The Olive Tree follows two children in Lebanon as they learn to share and work together by looking past their differences. It shows young readers that compassion and understanding lie at the heart of all friendships.

Elsa Marston is the author of over a dozen books of fiction and non-fiction for children and young adults. She has won numerous awards for her writing, including the Middle Eastern Outreach Council Book of the Year, as well as awards from Highlights and the International Reading Association. Elsa’s late husband was from Lebanon, and the two of them would often travel together to the Middle East. She lives in Bloomington, Indiana.

Claire Ewart has illustrated books for numerous authors and has also written and illustrated several books of her own. Her work as an illustrator has been included on Best Book lists from School Library Journal and Parents, and also featured on the PBS television shows Reading Rainbow and Storytime. She lives in Fort Wayne, Indiana.


The Arab American National Museum (AANM) documents, preserves and presents Arab American history, culture and contributions.


The AANM is accredited by the American Alliance of Museums; an Affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution; and a founding member of the Immigration and Civil Rights Network of the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience.


The Museum is located at 13624 Michigan Avenue, Dearborn, MI, 48126. Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday; noon-5 p.m. Sunday. Closed Monday, Tuesday; Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Admission is $8 for adults; $4 for students, seniors and children 6-12; ages 5 and under and Museum Members, free.

Visit or call 313.582.2266 for further information.

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