SLIS Alum Helps Create First Arab American Book Award
Kent State University School of Library and Information Science alumna Alice Crosetto, M.L.S. ’84, was writing a book review for Ethnic Book Awards: A Directory of Multicultural Literature for Young Readers by Sherry York for ARBA: American Reference Books Annual in 2006, when she noticed that there was no book award for Arab American writers or literature.
Crosetto, an assistant professor who served as the acquisitions librarian and coordinator of collection development for the University Libraries at the University of Toledo, decided to do something to fill that gap.
Creating the Award
At the time, Crosetto was working with Mark Horan, a then-associate professor at the University of Toledo, and with their mentor Professor Rajinder Garcha (a 1989 Kent State SLIS alumna) at the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo's library, in hopes of creating a viable library for the Center's community. The three started talking about the possibility of creating an award and researched various other book awards, ethnic and non-ethnic.
Crosetto also emailed Kent State SLIS professor Carolyn S. Brodie, Ph.D., for advice; Brodie had served on several key awards committees, including the Caldecott Medal, honoring artists of American picture books for children, and the Newbery Medal, honoring authors who make distinguished contributions to American literature for children.
After their correspondence, Crosetto decided that the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, Mich., only an hour outside of Toledo, would be a good starting point for an Arab American book award discussion. Crosetto reached out to the museum’s librarian in March of 2006, outlining the positive reasons to sponsor an award as well as the rationale for the award being associated with the museum. The librarian agreed. Crosetto, Horan and Garcha then spent more than a year meeting monthly to set up the mission, guidelines and other details for the award.
“This wasn’t about us,” Crosetto said. “In giving out book awards, what you do is encourage others, those out of the mainstream who feel that their voice isn’t heard.”
Defining the Audience
Crosetto and her colleagues noticed early on that one of the challenges in creating the award was making sure people understood what the awards were truly about. Crosetto said that often people immediately assumed “Arab American” directly meant “Muslim.”
“Mark and I attended the American Library Association conference in New Orleans (back in June of 2006) and started advertising for this,” Crosetto said. “The minute we said, ‘Arab American,’ people automatically assumed we were talking about Muslims. The Arab American National Museum is not a religious museum. It’s for Arab Americans from the 22 countries qwho share a first language: Arabic,” Crosetto added.
The committee managed to overcome the initial confusion about the award and has seen it grow in prestige and number of entries since its creation in 2007. At first, only three categories were honored —– fiction, nonfiction and children’s literature. A poetry category was added in 2009, and both the nonfiction and poetry categories have been endowed and named appropriately.
Crosetto said the number of attendees at the awards ceremony also has grown. Additionally, the location of the ceremony has changed since the award was created. In the early years, the event was held at the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn. Since then, the ceremony has been held in Washington, D.C., and Minneapolis, and this year will be in New York City.
“We knew from the beginning that it would take years to evolve. We also knew that we wanted to establish an award that would live beyond us,” Crosetto said. “It’s hard to believe that this is a national book award, and we are proud to say we sparked it and initiated it, and it will go beyond us and continue through the museum.”
The winners of the 2016 awards were honored on Tuesday, Oct. 25, at the Lebanese American University – New York Academic Center in Manhattan. A list of award recipients can be found here.