A Theory of Birds: Poems by Zaina Alsous has won the 2020 George Ellenbogen Poetry Award from the Arab American National Museum, part of the Arab American Book Awards.
The Arab American National Museum (AANM) is the first and only museum in the United States devoted to documenting and sharing Arab American contributions that shaped the economic, political and cultural landscapes of American life. The Museum also brings to light the shared experiences of immigrants and ethnic groups, paying tribute to the diversity of our nation.
The poems in A Theory of Birds draw on inherited memory, historical record, critical theory, alternative geographies, and sharp observation. In them, birds—particularly extinct species—become metaphor for the violences perpetrated on othered bodies under the colonial gaze. Putting ecological preservation in conversation with Arab racial formation, state vernacular with the chatter of birds, Alsous explores how categorization can be a tool for detachment, domination, and erasure. Stretching their wings toward de-erasure, these poems—their subjects and their logics—refuse to stay put within a single category. This is poetry in support of a decolonized mind.
A Theory of Birds was selected as the Etel Adnan Poetry Prize winner for 2019. Every year the University of Arkansas Press, together with the Radius of Arab American Writers, awards the Etel Adnan Poetry Prize for a first or second book of poetry in English by a writer of Arab heritage. The series is edited by Hayan Charara and Fady Joudah and supported by the King Fahd Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Arkansas.
A Theory of Birds was also named the winner of the 2020 Norma Farber Award from the Poetry Society of America.