The story behind entrepreneur Ayah Bdeir

Editor’s Note: Fadel Adib was selected as a top innovator under 35 in a list compiled by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Click here to see the Lebanese Examiner original article.

Growing up in Beirut, Ayah Bdeir was taught that art and engineering occupied separate realms.

“In Lebanon, as in most of the world, there is little blurring of the boundaries between the professions: doctor, teacher, scientist, and designer exist in separate silos,” she says.

The company she founded in 2011, called littleBits Electronics, goes against that idea by making technology accessible across all disciplines and ages. It sells a library of modular electronic units that can be easily connected for projects as diverse as a sound machine, a night light, or a lifelike robotic hand.

littleBits makes roughly 50 different modules, which cost up to $40 each or come in kits of $99 and up. Each module is a thin rectangle measuring between one and four inches in length and containing complex hidden circuitry. Blue modules provide power. Pink ones allow for inputs, like switches, microphones, and motion sensors. Green ones are for outputs like lights, motors, and speakers. Orange ones provide wires or logic functions.

Bdeir designed all the modules so they fit together magnetically, ensuring that users join circuits correctly.

Her New York–based company has sold hundreds of thousands of units in about 80 countries, and Bdeir takes pride in the fact that the product appeals to girls and boys, children and adults, designers and engineers.

“A screwdriver is a screwdriver for everybody,” she says. “It doesn’t matter who you are or how you use it. Every person will find what they want.”

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Amanda Schaffer

Watch Ayah Bdeir on TED:

2014 Arab American Book Award Winners announced

FictionThe Corpse Washer by Sinan Antoon
The Evelyn Shakir
Non-Fiction Award
We Are Iraqis: Aesthetics and Politics in a Time of War edited by Nadje Al-Ali and Deborah Al-Najjar
The George Ellenbogen Poetry AwardConcordance of Leaves by Philip Metres
Children/Young AdultKids Guide to Arab American History by Yvonne Wakim Dennis and Maha Addasi

Honorable Mentions
FictionThe Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud
Non-FictionBetween the Middle East and the Americas: The Cultural Politics of Diaspora edited by Evelyn Alsultany and Ella Shohat
The Gaza Kitchen: A Palestinian Cultural Journey by Laila El-Haddad and Maggie Schmitt
PoetryMy Daughter La Chola by Farid MatukAND Alight by Fady Joudah
Children/Young AdultThe Arab World Thought of It by Saima S. Hussain


Award CeremonyThe 2014 Arab American Book Award winners will be honored during this year’s Radius of Arab American Writers (RAWI) Gathering in Minneapolis, Minn. The award ceremony will take place on Saturday, September 20 at 7pm at Open Book. Join us for an evening of celebration featuring readings, book signings, food & drinks, and music. The event is free for RAWI attendees; others may purchase tickets ahead of time.



The Corpse Washer
By Sinan Antoon
(New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2013)

In the tropical paradise that is Miami, Avis and Brian The Corpse Washer, originally written in Arabic and translated to English by the author, is the story of Jawad. This young man, born to a traditional Shi’ite family of corpse washers and shrouders in Baghdad, decides to abandon the family tradition, choosing instead to become a sculptor, to celebrate life rather than tend to death. But the circumstances of history dictate otherwise. Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship and the economic sanctions of the 1990s destroy the socioeconomic fabric of society. The 2003 invasion and military occupation unleash sectarian violence. Trained as an artist to shape materials to represent life aesthetically, Jawad now must contemplate how death shapes daily life and the bodies of Baghdad’s inhabitants.

Sinan Antoon is a poet, novelist, and translator. He is associate professor at the Gallatin School, New York University, and cofounder and coeditor of the cultural page of JadaliyyaThe Corpse Washer is his second novel. Born in Iraq, Antoon now lives in New York City.

The Evelyn Shakir Non-Fiction Award

We Are Iraqis: Aesthetics and Politics in a Time of War
Edited by Nadje Al-Ali and Deborah Al-Najjar
(Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2013)

Nadje Al-Ali is professor of gender studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. Her publications include Iraqi Women: Untold Stories from 1948 to the Present and What Kind of Liberation? Women and the Occupation of Iraq (coauthored with Nicola Pratt). Deborah Al-Najjar is a PhD candidate in the Department of American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California. Her fiction has been published in the Kenyon Review, the Michigan Quarterly Review, and the Indiana Review.Most Americans know very little about the everyday lives of Iraqis, despite ongoing media coverage of the occupation of Iraq and its aftermath. In this anthology, Al-Ali and Al-Najjar showcase written and visual contributions by Iraqi artists, writers, poets, filmmakers, photographers, and activists, many of whom now live in the U.S. The contributors face issues common to immigrants – identity in diaspora, the lasting impact of war, cultures in transition – compounded by America’s invasion of their home country. We Are Iraqis is a highly relevant and much needed addition to this under-published subfield within Arab and Arab American studies.

The George Ellenbogen Poetry Award

A Concordance of Leaves
By Philip Metres
(Doha, Qatar: Diode Editions, 2013)

In A Concordance of Leaves, Philip Metres recalls his 2003 visit to the village of Toura in the Palestinian West Bank, on the occasion of his sister’s wedding to a resident of the village. This epic wedding poem encompasses both the Arab and Arab American experiences, working brilliantly within self-imposed constraints. Fellow Arab American Book Award winner Naomi Shihab Nye calls the piece “a tender book so transporting it carries us deeply into the soul of Palestine as well as the love of a family.”

Philip Metres has written a number of books, most recently the chapbook, abu ghraib arias (Flying Guillotine, 2011), winner of the 2012 Arab American Book Award, and To See the Earth (Cleveland State, 2008). His work has appeared in Best American Poetry and many other journals and anthologies. He is the recipient of two NEA fellowships, a Watson Fellowship, four Ohio Arts Council Grants, the Anne Halley Prize, and the Cleveland Arts Prize. He teaches literature and creative writing at John Carroll University in Cleveland, Ohio.

Children/Young Adult

A Kid’s Guide to Arab American History
By Yvonne Wakim Dennis and Maha Addasi
(Chicago, IL: Chicago Review Press, 2013)

A Kid’s Guide to Arab American History dispels stereotypes and provides a look at the people and experiences that have shaped Arab American culture in a format enjoyable for elementary students. Each chapter focuses on a different group of Arab Americans including those of Lebanese, Syrian, Palestinian, Jordanian, Egyptian, Iraqi, and Yemeni descent. Short biographies of notable Arab Americans, including Danny Thomas, Paula Abdul, Helen Zughaib, and Ralph Nader, demonstrate a wide variety of careers and contributions. The book also features more than 50 fun activities that highlight Arab American arts, language, games, clothing, and food.

Yvonne Wakim Dennis is a Cherokee and Syrian author, curriculum developer, social worker, and multicultural consultant. She previously coauthored the award-winning A Kid’s Guide to Native American History and Native Americans Today. She lives in New York City.

Maha Addasi is the author of The White Nights of Ramadan and Time to Pray, which received an honorable mention for the 2011 Arab American Book Award. She has been a freelance writer, news correspondent, television anchor, and radio producer in Amman, Jordan. She was born in Kuwait and lives in Fairfax, Virginia.

2014 Honorable Mentions

Honorable Mention – Fiction

The Woman Upstairs

By Claire Messud

(Vintage, 2013)

The Woman Upstairs, a New York Times bestselling novel, is told through the confessional voice of schoolteacher Nora Eldridge. Nora’s unremarkable life is shaken by the arrival of the Shahid family –Skandar, a Lebanese scholar, Sirena, an Italian artist, and their son, Reza. The family draws her into a complex and exciting new world, until a betrayal shatters Nora’s newfound happiness. Told with urgency, intimacy, and piercing emotion, The Woman Upstairs is the riveting story of a woman awakened, transformed, and abandoned by a desire for a world beyond her own.

Claire Messud is the author of The Emperor’s Children, When the World Was Steady, The Hunters, and The Last Life. All four books were named New York Times Notable Books of the Year. Messud has been awarded Guggenheim and Radcliffe Fellowships and the Strauss Living Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with her husband and children.


Honorable Mention – Non-Fiction

Between the Middle East and the Americas: The Cultural Politics of Diaspora

Edited by Evelyn Alsultany and Ella Shohat

(Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan Press, 2013)

How do we talk about Arabs and Muslims in the Americas? Between the Middle East and the Americas compares and contrasts outsider depictions of “the Middle East” as a consumable, exoticized object with self-representation by Arabs and Muslims in writing, the arts, and digital spaces. Essays in this anthology examine a range of discourses, from the imagery in Arab American hip hop to characters and dialogue in TV dramas to the rhetoric of the Mohammed cartoon controversy. As the co-editors explain in their introduction, the Americas are a place “where cultures meet, clash, and grapple within conditions of inequality,” resulting in cultural practices that must be understood within a transnational perspective.

Evelyn Alsultany is an associate professor in the Department of American Culture at the University of Michigan. She previously co-edited Arab and Arab American Feminisms (Syracuse University Press, 2011), which received the Evelyn Shakir Non-Fiction Award in the 2012 Arab American Book Awards. Ella Shohat is a professor in the Departments of Art and Public Policy, Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at New York University.

Honorable Mention – Non-Fiction

The Gaza Kitchen: A Palestinian Cultural Journey
By Laila El-Haddad and Maggie Schmitt
(Charlottesville, Va.: Just World Books, 2013)

In the summer of 2010, authors Laila El-Haddad, a Palestinian American, and Maggie Schmitt traveled the length and breadth of the Gaza Strip to collect recipes and strories. Building on that trip and the extensive knowledge that El-Haddad has gained from family and friends throughout the years, the two produced a cookbook. The result, The Gaza Kitchen, is a richly illustrated cookbook featuring 130 recipes and personal descriptions of the cuisine and the broader social and economic system in which Gazans live and prepare meals.

Laila El-Haddad is the author of Gaza Mom: Palestine, Politics, Parenting, and Everything In Between and blogs at She is a political analyst, social activist, and parent-of-three from Gaza City who currently makes her home in Maryland. Maggie Schmitt is a writer, researcher, translator, educator, and social activist. Schmitt works in various media – writing, production, photography, video – exploring and recording the daily practices of ordinary people as a way of understanding political and social realities in various parts of the Mediterranean region.

Honorable Mention – Poetry

My Daughter La Chola

By Farid Matuk
(Boise, Id.: Ahsahta Press, 2013)

Pushing the boundaries of traditional poetry, Matuk’s new work examines the shaky ground connecting history and lore. Among crises economic and personal, from the documents of atrocities to the Golden Girls, the poems reach into Arab America and beyond, anticipating Matuk’s daughter’s inevitable fall from unspeakable glory.

Farid Matuk is the author of This Isa Nice Neighborhood (Letter Machines Editions, 2010), which received the 2011 Arab American Book Award honorable mention. He has also published poems in Third Coast, Iowa Review,, Critical Quarterly, The Baffler, and Denver Quarterly, among others. He serves as contributing editor for The Volta and poetry editor for Fence.

Honorable Mention – Poetry

By Fady Joudah
(Port Townsend, Wash.: Copper Canyon Press, 2013)

Alight, the second collection of original poems by Fady Joudah, takes a tender approach to tragedy, breaking through the past with haunting lyric mastery. In this work, Joudah attempts to unravel the structures of trauma which follow historical afflictions, both personal and global. By unharnessing the voices of survivors, often children, Joudah illuminates the violent vulnerability of displacement. Alight asks the reader to reconsider the role of a child, the renewal of the soul, and the nature of ancestral roots.

Fady Joudah is a Palestinian-American poet, translator, and physician of internal medicine. He received his medical training from the Medical College of Georgia and University of Texas, and served with Doctors Without Borders in 2002 and 2005. His first book, The Earth in the Attic, won the 2007 Yale Series of Younger Poets competition. In 2010 he received a PEN translation award for his translations of Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish.

Honorable Mention – Children/Young Adult

The Arab World Thought of It
By Saima S. Hussain
(Toronto: Annick Press, 2013)

This colorful, inviting book is a celebration of the innovations and achievements of the Arab people from 22 countries in North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. Author Saima Hussain, who was raised in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, presents the contributions of the Arab people in such fields as astronomy, medicine, architecture, food, education, and art. Young readers may be surprised to discover the ways in which people from this region have changed, and continue to change, the world.

Saima S. Hussain is a graduate of the University of Toronto and the Munk School of Global Affairs. This is her first book. She lives in Toronto, Canada.

Lebanese architect becomes first female dean at Columbia University

(NEW YORK, NY) — Lebanese architect Amale Andraos was appointed as the new dean of the Graduate School of Architecture, Preservation, and Planning at Columbia University in New York City.

Andraos, who was born in Beirut and has practiced in Montrael, Paris, and Rotterdam, is the first woman to become a dean at the school, according to a statement released by the university on Tuesday.amale-andraos-dan-wood

Before joining Columbia University in 2011, Andraos, who is 41, taught at Princeton, Harvard, and the University of Pennsylvania in the United States, and at the American University of Beirut in Lebanon.

She also operates the New York design firm WorkAC with her husband, Dan Wood, who she met in Dutch City. They have designed the crystalline Diane von Furstenberg headquarters as well as the Children’s Museum of the Arts in New York and a new library in Kew Gardens, Queens.

“The university is very focused on global questions and global issues, and Amale’s background sort of bespeaks globalization,” Lee Bollinger, the university president, said in an interview. “It’s not a theory or buzz word, it’s who she is, and that’s very important.”

Andraos, who succeeds Mark Wigley, is said to be an accidental dean of sorts. She had been selected to the search committee for a new dean but was not on the short list of candidates.

After watching her work on the committee, Mr. Bollinger said, “we realized our next dean was sitting right in front of us.”

Lebanese-American becomes Good Morning America anchor

(NEW YORK, NY) — Lebanese-American journalist Paula Faris was promoted to become Good Morning America‘s weekend anchor for ABC News, effective August 8 in New York, replacing outgoing anchor Bianca Golodryga.

Paula-Faris-FamilyFaris, whose father is of Lebanese descent, recently gained exposure as ABC’s reporter at the World Cup in Brazil. Prior to that, she was the network’s World News Now anchor, after joining ABC from NBC Chicago in 2012.

ABC News President James Goldston called Faris “a terrific broadcaster” in his announcement in late July.

Faris will join current co-anchor Dan Harris every Saturday and Sunday morning.

The granddaughter of Lebanese immigrants, Faris met her husband John Krueger while at Cedarville University. They married in 2000 and currently have three children.

Faris, who is 36 years old, was born and raised in Jackson, Michigan. Her family still resides in the area.

“We are just so proud and excited for her,” her mother, Carol Faris, told MLive. “When she told my husband and myself the news of her offer, we were speechless.”

Send your congratulations to Paula Faris on her official Facebook page.

Archbishop Joseph Zahlawi elected Metropolitan of North America


(NEW YORK, NY) — The Antiochian Orthodox Christian Diocese announced the election of His Eminence, Archbishop Joseph Zahlawi as the new Archbishop of New York and Metropolitan of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America.

His Eminence was elected on Thursday, July 3, 2014 inside the historic Our Lady of Balamand Patriarchal Monastery in Koura, Northern Lebanon.

His Eminence Metropolitan Joseph was consecrated to the Holy Episcopacy on June 30, 1991 at the St. Mary Cathedral in Damascus, after many years of serving as a deacon and a priest. He was born in Damascus, Syria, in 1950.

For more information about Metropolitan Joseph, click here.

Kibbe Nayyeh a New York Times “Must-Eat” dish


(BEIRUT, LEBANON) — The New York Times recently revealed a list of “Must-Eat” dishes in several sections of the world. Kibbe Nayyeh in Antelias, Lebanon was selected by Anissa Helou, the author of “Levant.”

Kibbe Nayyeh in Antelias, Lebanon

Kibbe, a subtly spiced mixture of minced lamb and bulgur wheat, can be found around the Levant, cooked in myriad ways. It can also be served raw, as kibbe nayyeh (nayyeh means raw in Arabic), often called the national dish of Lebanon. It’s sometimes referred to as Arab steak tartare, although it is smoother and spicier — the meat is moistened with olive oil instead of egg yolk, and should ideally be pounded in a marble mortar with a heavy wooden pestle until it turns into a silky paste. I can still picture my Lebanese mother and grandmother sitting on low stools on either side of a beautiful large mortar taking turns to pound the lean chunks of lamb with a big wooden pestle.

As you can imagine, this took quite some time and hardly anyone these days makes kibbe nayyeh by hand, least of all restaurants. But some, like Al-Halabi, a timeless restaurant in Antelias, a northern suburb of Beirut, manage to achieve the same smooth texture despite mincing the meat in a grinder. Its kibbe nayyeh is one of the best in town: as silky as the one I remember from my youth, with the same lovely pale pink color, a sure sign it is mixed just before it is served, with a little iced water added to keep the color and loosen the meat. Al-Halabi also uses a minimal amount of bulgur wheat, which allows for a meatier texture. And the seasoning is subtle, with enough spices to enhance the flavor of the lamb but not overwhelm it.

Read the full New York Times article here.

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