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Brooklyn Public Library announces 2023 Book Prize winners

November 3, 2023 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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Brooklyn Public Library announced the winners of the ninth annual Brooklyn Public Library Book Prize on Monday, awarding Lamya H the nonfiction prize for “Hijab Butch Blues” and Catherine Lacey the fiction prize for “Biography of X.” The prize recognizes writing that captures the spirit of Brooklyn and is selected by both librarians and staff

“Both of the 2023 Brooklyn Public Library Book Prize winners have written daring, genre-defying works. Through a story of love, art, and grief in New York City, Catherine Lacey’s audacious new novel prompts us to question reality, while  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,” said Linda E. Johnson, president and CEO, Brooklyn Public Library. 

“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,” she added.

In the best-selling novel “Biography of X,” Catherine Lacey introduces us to a widow intent on setting the record straight about her deceased wife, along the way taking the reader on an extraordinary journey. I’m very grateful for this support from the staff and readers at the Brooklyn Public Library, especially as we find ourselves in this recurrent struggle with censorship and book bannings and a baseless fear of queer narratives,” said Lacey.

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In her memoir, “Hijab Butch Blues,” Lamya H, shares her quest for community and belonging as a queer, devout Muslim immigrant. “I’m so thrilled to receive the BPL prize for ‘Hijab Butch Blues.’ 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, that librarians would order books for me that they didn’t have in their system, that they would recommend me other books and curate reading lists. 

“Reading was how I learned to write, and so it’s especially meaningful to me to win this prize — it was through the public library system in New York that I came to writing, that I heard so many of my favorite authors speak, that I was exposed to a wide variety of diverse books and authors,” said Lamya H.

Librarians and library staff members working in BPL’s 62 locations nominated over 80 books this year. They included stories of immigrants and innkeepers, surgeons and sea merchants, musical composers and marine biologists, writers and working-class families, representing all of the borough’s richly diverse communities. 

The 2023 shortlist also included “Calling for a Blanket Dance” by Oscar Hokeah and “Yellowface” by R.F. Kuang in the fiction category; and “Your Emergency Contact Has Experienced An Emergency” by Chen Chen and “Under the Skin: The Hidden Toll of Racism on American Lives and on the Health of Our Nation” by Linda Villarosa in the nonfiction category.

“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. In “Hijab Butch Blues,” Lamya H reflects on their sexuality, faith, gender identity, and place in their community. The committee was touched by her story and how it was at once deeply personal and yet spoke to universal concerns. 

“Catherine Lacey’s “Biography of X” is a genre-breaking novel that surprised the committee with its constant questioning of truth and reality. Both of these books are worthy of this honor, and we are so excited to share them with the Brooklyn community,” said Librarian Jess Harwick, BPL book prize chair.

Brooklyn Public Library is one of the nation’s largest library systems, with its 62 locations serving a borough of 2.7 million people. The most popular book ever checked out of the system is Maurice Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things Are.”

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