‘Birds of Paradise,’ ‘Abu Ghraib Arias’ Win 2012 Arab American Book Awards

The Michigan-based Arab American Museum has announced the winners of the 2012 Arab American Book Awards, and — unsurprisingly — Diana Abu Jaber’s big and beautiful Birds of Paradisewhich compellingly follows a young teenage runaway and her family, took the novel prize.

The family, which faces issues of food, finances, housing, and integrity, is not Arab. The only “Arab” part is deep in the center of the book, a girl who is haunted by Palestine and Israel and commits suicide, setting off a disastrous chain of events for the family. The movement between interiors of the runaway sometimes-model daughter and her boutique-baker mother is the most compelling part of the narrative.

Congrats to Diana Abu Jaber!

The nonfiction prize went to Arab & Arab American Feminisms: Gender, Violence, & Belonging, a collection edited by Rabab Abdulhadi, Evelyn Alsultany and Nadine Naber. The book contains a variety of essays (and poems) by Dunya Mikhail, Mohja Kahf, Susan Muaddi Darraj, and others, which sometimes re-write familiar stories and sometimes attempt to move beyond the usual feminist categories and re-invent the word. Plus, as a bonus, there’s a funny short memoir from Randa Jarrar.

The poetry prize went to a book I haven’t read: abu ghraib arias
by Philip Metres. According to the release from the Arab American Museum:

abu ghraib arias is a poetic meditation on why torture happens and what torture does, both to its perpetrators and its victims. The book is a long poem that began out of the author’s vertiginous sense of being named but silenced as an Arab American, and out of the parallel sense of seeing Arabs named and silenced, since 9/11.

You can read a poem from the collection, from his publisher’s website:

The Blues of Javal Davis

stay open about drawing
an opinion ████
████████ from
the comforts of your living

room watching CNN
if you were actually on
the other side of CNN
fighting for your life pretty

much on our own we
worked seven days straight
slept seven to a cell
I was told to bang cans

throw cold ████slam doors
I blared heavy metal ████
loud all hours but the prisoners
████████air guitar

I blared Hip Hop Hurray
until they began to bob their heads
And then I played country
they said Allah Allah cut it off

country drove them crazy
CNN says we’re some dumb
poor kids from Garbagecan USA
it didn’t turn out to be that way

Honorable mentions went to Hisham Matar’s Anatomy of a Disappearance (fiction), Modern Arab American Fiction: A Reader’s Guide, ed. Steven Salita (nonfiction), and Naomi Shahib Nye’s Transfer (poetry). Anthony Shadid received a posthumous lifetime achievement award.

You can read the whole release on the Arab American Museum website.