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Baltimore's Susan Muaddi Darraj wins American Book Award for 'A Curious Land'

Stories of fictitious Palestinian village earn Baltimore author a prestigious American Book Award.

The Baltimore fiction writer Susan Muaddi Darraj just picked up a major accolade -- her short story collection "A Curious Land: Stories from Home" has received a 2016 American Book Award.

"A Curious Land: Stories from Home" will pick up one of 14 prizes handed out during an Oct. 30 ceremony in San Francisco. The award carries no cash prize.

Now in its 37th year, the American Book Awards were created "to provide recognition for outstanding literary achievement from the entire spectrum of America’s diverse literary community," the organization wrote in a news release.

There are no nominees or categories in the traditional sense -- just a list of authors and titles that have been judged by a jury of the authors' peers to have literary merit.

Darraj set her collection in a fictitious Palestinian village on the West Bank that she named Tel al-Hilou.

In an interview conducted by her publisher, Darraj said that she endowed her creation with "the elements you see in every small community -- the family dynamics, the gossip, the leaders (both genuine and corrupt), the love stories, and more."

In addition, she said that she tried to convey the peculiar tensions of living in a country that has been under military occupation for more than six decades. She told her publisher:

"One of the most interesting (and sad) aspects of the Israeli occupation is how much it has changed the physical landscape of the West Bank and Gaza -- most villages are being crowded out by Israeli settlements."

This is shaping up to be a good year for Darraj, who will read from her collection in late September at the Baltimore Book Festival.

Even before "A Curious Land" was published in 2015, the linked collection of short stories picked up the Grace Paley Prize for Short Fiction. Earlier this week, the book won the Arab American Book Award, and it has been short-listed for the Palestine Book Award. (The winner for the latter prize will be chosen this fall.)

But the best-known of these literary plums is the American Book Award.

The other winners for 2016 include "Tributaries" by Laura Da’; "We Too Sing America: South Asian, Arab, Muslim and Sikh Immigrants Shape Our Multiracial Future," by Deepa Iyer; "Loving Day" by Mat Johnson; "Counternarratives" by John Keene; "F.B. Eyes: How J. Edgar Hoover's Ghostreaders Framed African American Literature" by William J. Maxwell; "Trace: Memory, History, Race and the American Landscape" by Lauret Savoy; "The American Slave Coast: A History of the Slave-Breeding Industry" by Ned and Constance Sublette; "Return to Arroyo Grande" by Jesús Salvador Treviño; "Tomorrow's Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa" by Nick Turse and "Manifestation Wolverine: The Collected Poetry of Ray Young Bear" by Ray Young Bear.

The ABA Lifetime Achievement Award was given to Louise Meriwether; Lyra Monteiro and Nancy Isenberg picked up the Walter & Lillian Lowenfels Criticism Award; and Chiitaanibah Johnson won the Andrew Hope Award.

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