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Literary award winner gives voice to community: Arab-Americans, Muslims focus of work

Kathryn Haddad is winner of the 2018 Kay Sexton Award for her role in creating a space in the Minnesota creative community for previously underrepresented Arabs, Arab Americans and Muslims. Courtesy of Kathryn Haddad

ST. PAUL—Kathryn Haddad is winner of the 2018 Kay Sexton Award for her role in creating a space in the Minnesota creative community for previously underrepresented Arabs, Arab-Americans and Muslims.

The award, announced Thursday, Feb. 8, by Friends of the St. Paul Public Library, cited Haddad's influence as founder of Mizna, one of the few Arab-American arts and literary organizations in the U.S., as well as being a writer, teacher and community organizer.

Sponsored by St. Catherine University, the honor is part of the Minnesota Book Awards. It is presented annually to an individual or organization in recognition of long-standing dedication and outstanding work in fostering books, reading and literary activity in Minnesota.

Haddad's work explores contemporary experiences and reflects on the political reality of life for Arab- and Muslim-Americans. She founded Mizna in 1998 and served for 12 years as artistic and executive director of the organization devoted to promoting Arab-American culture. She also started the literary journal Mizna: Prose, Poetry, and Art Exploring Arab America, the only journal of Arab-American literature in the nation.

A founding member and executive director of Pangea World Theater, Haddad received a Bush Leadership Fellowship. She received three Playwright's Center Many Voices fellowships, as well as a travel and study grant from the Jerome Foundation and several grants from the Minnesota State Arts Board and Intermedia Arts. Her plays have been produced in many venues throughout the country, and her play "Zafira, the Olive Oil Warrior" appears in the 2017 anthology "Contemporary Plays by Women of Color," edited by Robert Uno.

Haddad is a board member of the Loft Literary Center; a longtime member of RAWI, the national organization of Arab American Writers, and co-founder and artistic and executive director of Minneapolis-based New Arab American Theater Works. She teaches language arts at John F. Kennedy High School in Bloomington.

Panelists who selected Haddad for the Sexton award agreed she has "changed the literary landscape of Minnesota."

Haddad will be honored April 21 at the 30th annual Minnesota Book Awards ceremony at the Intercontinental Hotel St. Paul Riverfront in downtown St. Paul. Awards will be presented in nine book categories, as well as the annual Book Artist Award and the Hognander Minnesota History Award. Tickets at $60 and $40 are available at thefriends.org/ceremony or by calling 651-222-3242.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service

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