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Abisaab, Alexander Win 2020 Khayrallah Prize

The Khayrallah Center is pleased to announce that the 2020 Khayrallah Prize was awarded to Dr. Rula Jurdi Abisaab for her novel Fi ‘ulbat al-Daw’ [Camera Obscura currently being translated by Maia Tabet], and Mr. Zayn Alexander for his film al-Ghurba [Abroad]. Each will receive a $5000 monetary award, for their groundbreaking work. In April the Khayrallah Center will host a virtual award ceremony to recognize Rula and Zayn and present them with their award.

The Khayrallah Prize is an annual award given by the Moise A. Khayrallah Center for Lebanese Diaspora Studies based at North Carolina State University. In its sixth year now, the Khayrallah Prize identifies, awards and publicly honors those whose original artistic productions and projects focus on any aspect of life in Lebanon, or among Lebanese immigrants, whether in the past or present.

Co-Winner: Rula Jurdi Abisaab

In announcing the winners, Dr. Akram Khater, Director of the Khayrallah Center, noted that the Khayrallah Prize selection committee was deeply impressed by the linguistically and narratively multi-layered story Rula al-Jurdi tell across generations and continents linking village with mahjar, and interweaving throughout the politics of gender, community and empire. “It is truly a tour de force of storytelling made all the more engrossing by a fluid text that flows effortlessly across borders to speak of transnational lives that are simultaneously grounded in intensely intimate local moments captured by camera and narrator.” Even more compelling is the juxtaposition between two types of knowledge and enlightenment embodied by the novel’s two women protagonists. Sarah, a Druze religious woman of prized learning and wisdom, teaches a humanistic universalism deeply rooted in the village of ‘Ayn Shamas. On the other hand, Nour a younger and restless woman travels to NY to study at a university there, and pursue a secular humanism that is enmeshed in globalized politics but that appears at times rootless. Despite their markedly different paths, the novel intertwines the two lives and ways of being with moving literary skills.

“I am deeply honored that my novel was selected among outstanding works and recognized for its artistic merits,” she said.

Upon receiving news of the award, Dr. Jurdi noted: “Given how scarce literary awards are in connection to Lebanon and the Arab World, the Khayrallah Prize is a rare gift. I am deeply honored that my novel was selected among outstanding works and recognized for its artistic merits. I believe that in awarding me the prize, the judges are choosing to honor the passion and anguish of diasporic Lebanese writers who are making gendered interventions in narratives of self, place, and belonging.”

You can watch an inteview with Dr. al-Jurdi here.

Co-Winner: Zayn Alexander

Zayn Alexander’s Abroad is equally deeply impressed with the power of his short film in capturing the intimacy of the Lebanese immigrant experience amidst a tangle of forces that constantly tug at the lives of those who–by choice or because of need–leave Lebanon. Through humor to deal with racism and economic expediency, and painful poignancy about lives stretched across thousands of miles, and with an economy of visual and spoken language, Alexander tells a story that has been replayed in one way or another in many immigrant lives. Grounded as the film is in a post-9/11 moment, it nonetheless could be speaking of any time Lebanese immigrants (and others) leave a home seeking opportunities made all the harder (if not impossible) to attain by stereotypes and racism, and by the constant pull of “home” and those left behind. A veritable tour de force.

“I am truly honored to receive this award. It is an even greater honor to be placed in such distinguished ranks as those of the past honorees,” Alexander said.

Upon receiving news of the award, Mr. Alexander noted: “I am truly honored to receive this award. It is an even greater honor to be placed in such distinguished ranks as those of the past honorees. My journey away from my home and family for the past ten years has not been an easy one. To be recognized, especially for a film that speaks to that same struggle, is humbling and validating.”

You can watch an inteview with Mr. Alexander here.

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