The Norma Farber Book Award honors a first book of original poetry written by a living author and is given by the Poetry Society of America. The Judge was Matthew Shenoda. “In Zaina Alsous’ A Theory of Birds we are ushered into a re-calibration of the world, one intent on the eradication of that which has been oppressive and divisive,” Shenoda wrote. “In these poems history unravels us in fragments, causing us to fold ourselves into a new definition of “self” and an unabashed rejection of our positions as “subjects.” The poems found here are an honest and open exploration of how we come into a sense of our own understanding in a postcolonial world. Alsous’ poems are driven by the asking, often posing sentient questions like “who translated kings and not birds?”; questions that cause us to think of redefinition. And while her poems are searing in their critiques of political, racial, and gendered domination, like all good artists she is poignant in her ability to implicate herself at every turn and help us break through the binaries we often use to define ourselves. Hers is an aesthetic of fragmentation as a collective piecing together. A Theory of Birds teaches us that the interior narratives, the often quiet things that make each of us whole, are the most essential.”
A Theory of Birds was the winner of the 2019 Etel Adnan Poetry Prize. 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.