“Hijab Butch Blues” by Lamya H Wins 2023 BPL Book Prize

“Both of the 2023 Brooklyn Public Library Book Prize winners have written daring, genre-defying works,” said Linda E. Johnson in a press release. “Lamya H’s funny and poignant memoir is a palimpsest of stories about being brown, Muslim and queer in the Middle East and here in New York."

“Hijab Butch Blues” by Lamya H Wins 2023 BPL Book Prize
Lamya H wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter, that winning the prize gave them a sense of "queer Muslim joy."

The Brooklyn Public Library just revealed the recipients of the 2023 BPL Book Prize, an annual award recognizing exceptional nonfiction and fiction. Chosen by knowledgeable librarians and staff, the prize celebrates literature that embodies the diverse and vibrant essence of Brooklyn, one of the most multicultural and socially diverse communities in the United States. The nonbinary Muslim author known pseudonymously as Lamya H has won the Nonfiction Prize for  “Hijab Butch Blues;” Catherine Lacey won the Fiction Prize for "Biography of X."

“Both of the 2023 Brooklyn Public Library Book Prize winners have written daring, genre-defying works,” said Linda E. Johnson, President and CEO of the Brooklyn Public Library, in a press release. “Lamya H’s funny and poignant memoir is a palimpsest of stories about being brown, Muslim and queer in the Middle East and here in New York. We commend these extraordinarily talented writers and their fellow nominees as well as the librarians and staff who champion free and easy access to diverse and inclusive literature all year long.”

“All six of the shortlisted books broke boundaries and gave voice to a range of stories and lived experiences. The two winners of this year's prize both ask that readers push their preconceived notions of identity and how stories can shape us," said Librarian Jess Harwick of the BPL Book Prize Chair.

In their memoir “Hijab Butch Blues,” Lamya H seeks belonging a queer, devout Muslim immigrant “I'm so thrilled to receive the BPL prize for ‘Hijab Butch Blues,’” they said in a statement. “Libraries have been such a big part of my immigrant experience. I grew up in a country without public libraries, and when I came to the U.S., it floored me that I could access any book that I wanted … It is truly [an] honor to win this prize, selected by BPL librarians, staff and judges who I respect and appreciate so much.”

“Hijab Butch Blues” is describes as follows on the publisher’s website:

A queer hijabi Muslim immigrant survives her coming-of-age by drawing strength and hope from stories in the Quran in a memoir that’s “as funny as it is original” (The New York Times).
When fourteen-year-old Lamya H realizes she has a crush on her teacher — her female teacher — she covers up her attraction, an attraction she can’t yet name, by playing up her roles as overachiever and class clown. Born in South Asia, she moved to the Middle East at a young age and has spent years feeling out of place, like her own desires and dreams don’t matter, and it’s easier to hide in plain sight. To disappear. But one day in Quran class, she reads a passage about Maryam that changes everything: When Maryam learned that she was pregnant, she insisted no man had touched her. Could Maryam, uninterested in men, be ... like Lamya?
From that moment on, Lamya makes sense of her struggles and triumphs by comparing her experiences with some of the most famous stories in the Quran. She juxtaposes her coming out with Musa liberating his people from the pharoah; asks if Allah, who is neither male nor female, might instead be nonbinary; and, drawing on the faith and hope Nuh needed to construct his ark, begins to build a life of her own — ultimately finding that the answer to her lifelong quest for community and belonging lies in owning her identity as a queer, devout Muslim immigrant.
This searingly intimate memoir in essays, spanning Lamya’s childhood to her arrival in the United States for college through early-adult life in New York City, tells a universal story of courage, trust and love, celebrating what it means to be a seeker and an architect of one’s own life.

Fann previously wrote about “Hijab Butch Blues” in-depth here. “Hijab Butch Blues” can be borrowed from your local library or purchased at the link below.

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