Book about Toledo area Arab Americans wins national award

June 29, 2011 | News, UToday
By Feliza Casano



Arab Americans in Toledo: Cultural Assimilation and Community Involvement, a book edited by a UT professor emeritus and published by The University of Toledo Press, is the winner of the 2011 Evelyn Shakir Nonfiction Award.

The book, which was published last year, includes a collection of essays, interviews and profiles that focus on the population of Arab Americans in the Toledo area.

“It’s something that needed to be written,” said Dr. Samir Abu-Absi, professor emeritus of English, who edited the book. “It deals with a group in Toledo that became a major contributor to life in the community.”

The nonfiction award is named in honor of Shakir, an Arab-American writer and professor who died in 2010.

The Arab American National Museum, which presents the award, is located in Dearborn, Mich., a city with the largest Arab-American population in the United States. The museum is the first in the world focusing solely on Arab-American history and culture.

“It’s wonderful the national Arab community has picked this up and appreciated it as much as they have,” said Dr. Tom Barden, dean of the Honors College and general editor at The University of Toledo Press.

Abu-Absi said he was inspired by two books published by the Urban Affairs Center Press, later The University of Toledo Press, about ethnic populations in Toledo. Arab Americans in Toledo joined Hungarian American Toledo and The Irish in Toledo in the series.

Abu-Absi was born and raised in Lebanon and did graduate work at Indiana University before being hired as a member of the English Department faculty at UT in 1968.

“I met a lot of Arab Americans during my time there,” he said. “I thought to pay tribute to them and their contributions, I needed to get this book together.”

He began working on the book around the time he retired from the University in 2006. It took about four years to gather the materials that made it into the book.

“Dr. Abu-Absi’s community engagement has been significant and subtly important for more than 35 years,” said Joel Lipman, UT professor of English and literary editor at The University of Toledo Press. “His integrity and generosity contributed to the trust and mutual respect that enabled him to gather wide-ranging work from about three dozen contributing authors.”

The Evelyn Shakir Nonfiction Award is an honor not only for Abu-Absi, but also the University and The University of Toledo Press.

“It’s the first national award the UT Press has earned, and it shows we’re on a national level,” Barden said. “It’s a real tribute to how Dr. Abu-Absi did the work.”

Abu-Absi will receive the award at the Arab American Book Award Ceremony Sept. 29 at the Carnegie Institution in Washington, D.C.

“I am pleased with the recognition of the work of all involved: writers, editors, the interviewers and the interviewees,” he said. “I will be honored to accept the award this September on their behalf.”

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