Washington professor wins prestigious prize for literary nonfiction

CHESTERTOWN — Sufiya Abdur-Rahman, a visiting assistant professor of English at Washington College, has been awarded the prestigious Iowa Prize for Literary Nonfiction for her manuscript “Heir to the Crescent Moon.”

The Iowa Prize for Literary Nonfiction, open to new and established writers, is awarded for a book-length manuscript of literary nonfiction originally written in English. The winning manuscript is published by the University of Iowa Press.

“Heir to the Crescent Moon” will be published later this year.

One of the Iowa Prize judges, Susan Steinberg, said this about the work: “In swift, stunning passages, Abdur-Rahman’s brilliant memoir … fearlessly and honestly recounts what it is to inherit religion, to embody wisdom, to protect love, and to assume the immeasurable role of daughter.”

Abdur-Rahman teaches a range of courses for Washington College in creative writing, nonfiction and journalism. She has been instrumental in developing curriculum for the college’s new minor in Journalism, Editing & Publishing, according to a news release.

She also is creative nonfiction editor for the national literary journal, Cherry Tree.

In “Heir to the Crescent Moon,” Abdur-Rahman, the daughter of two Black Power-era converts to Islam, investigates her Muslim past and that of her parents in a search for self-discovery.

According to the news release, from age 5, Abdur-Rahman feels drawn to Islam even while her father, a devoted Muslim, tries to keep her from it. He and her mother abandoned their Harlem mosque before she was born and divorced when she was 12.

Forced apart from her father — her portal into Islam — Abdur-Rahman yearns to reconnect with the religion and, through it, him.

“Writing with quiet beauty but intellectual force about identity, community, violence, hope, despair, and faith, Abdur-Rahman weaves a vital tale about a family: black, Muslim, and distinctly American,” the news release states.

Abdur-Rahman has previously published essays and criticism in Catapult, The Common Online, Gay Mag, NPR and The Washington Post, among other publications.

She has been awarded fellowships from the Sustainable Arts Foundation and is a two-time alumnus of VONA (Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation) writing workshops.

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