A version of this story originally appeared in The Words.

By Alex Harrington ’19

Zeena Yasmine Fuleihan ’18 has been named Honorable Mention of the 2018 Nick Adams Short Story Contest for her story “Za’atar Croissants.”

Every year, short stories are submitted to each of the Associated Colleges of the Midwest, to be pared down to four pieces each that move on for regional consideration. From those entries, a faculty panel chooses six finalists for the final judge (this year, award-winning writer Will Boast), who chooses one winner and one honorable mention. Fuleihan is the first Macalester student to receive one of these awards since 2009. Another Macalester English major, Bethany Catlin ’19, also placed as one of the six finalists.

“Za’atar Croissants” originated in Professor Marlon James’s Crafts of Writing Fiction class during Fuleihan’s junior year, and has also gone on to inspire Fuleihan’s Honors Project, a novel called Light on the Balcony (which you can read more about in The Words’s April edition). Judge Will Boast wrote of the story, “Much of Beirut’s fascinating complexity comes to life in this remarkably vivid, concise vignette of a father and teenage daughter cleaning out a disused family apartment. A recent history of violence and death is felt strongly, but so is the energy and invention of the city, as epitomized perhaps in the titular croissants. All of this is achieved in about six pages, and I would happily read another sixty.”

“Za’atar Croissants” follows Leila, a young Lebanese woman raised in Paris, France, as she returns to Beirut, Lebanon with her father to clean out her late grandmother’s apartment. Her first time in Beirut since her early childhood, Leila discovers a wounded yet thriving city, and slowly falls in love with it against her father’s disgruntled wishes.

Fuleihan says that, “as a young Lebanese woman in the diaspora [she has] always been interested in themes of home, diaspora, and cultural belonging.” The premise of “Za’atar Croissants” “was inspired by one of [her] own experiences,” but “the characters and events are completely fictional.” While writing, she realized that the short story page limit wouldn’t be enough to contain all she had to say, so she developed it into her Honors Project.

As for her passion for writing more broadly, Fuleihan says, “I started writing before I can really remember. As a child, I never stopped reading books and loved coming up with my own stories. In eighth grade, I completed National Novel Writing Month—a challenge to write 50,000 words of fiction in 30 days—and did so again in my junior year of high school. Those early boosts of confidence in my ability to complete a long-form project on my own as a young writer laid the groundwork for me to continue my pursuit of writing as not only a passion but a viable career focus.” She adds, “za’atar is probably one my favorite spices (it’s actually more of a spice mix) and I highly recommend it to anyone who hasn’t encountered it before.”

From all of us at The Words and on behalf of Macalester’s English Department, congratulations Zeena!

May 16 2018

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