Diana Abu-Jaber
Author  Memoirist  Essayist
 
"I grew up inside the shape of my father’s stories. A Jordanian immigrant, Dad regaled us with tales about himself, his country, and his family that both entertained us and instructed us about the place he’d come from and the way he saw the world. These stories exerted a powerful influence on my imagination, in terms of what I chose to write about, the style of my language, and the form my own stories took."
  
—Diana Abu-Jaber
  
Diana Abu-Jaber was born in Syracuse, New York to an American mother and a Jordanian father.   When she was seven, her family moved to Jordan for two years, and she has lived between the U.S. and Jordan ever since.  Life was a constant juggling act, acting Arab at home but American in the street. The struggle to make sense of this sort of hybrid life, or “in-betweenness,” permeates Abu-Jaber’s fiction.
 
Her first novel, Arabian Jazz— considered by many to be the first mainstream Arab-American novel—won the 1994 Oregon Book award and prompted Jean Grant of The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs to say, “Abu-Jaber’s novel will probably do more to convince readers to abandon what media analyst Jack Shaheen calls America’s ‘abhorrence of the Arab’ than any number of speeches or publicity gambits.”
 
Her second novel, Crescent (W.W. Norton 2003), which was inspired by Shakespeare’s Othello, is set in contemporary Los Angeles and focuses on a multi-cultural love story between an Iraqi exile and an Iraqi-American chef. 

Lush and lyrical, suffused with the flavors and scents of Middle Eastern food, spiced with history and fable, Crescent is a sensuous love story as well as a gripping tale of commitment and risk. It won the PEN Center Award for Literary Fiction, the American Book Award, and has been published in eight countries to date.
 
"Food is such a great human connector; it’s so intimate. And Middle Eastern food, when it’s done well, is amazing. I thought...let the food be a metaphor for their experience."
 
—Diana Abu-Jaber
 
Again using cuisine as the fulcrum of her narrative, Abu-Jaber's next book—the culinary memoir The Language of Baklava (Pantheon, 2005)—chronicles her own experiences growing up in a food-obsessed Arab-American family during the 1970’s and 80’s. Each chapter is developed around one of her father’s traditional Middle Eastern recipes.

Entertainment Weekly described The Language of Baklava as being “as delectable for its stories as for its accompanying recipes...Diana Abu-Jaber concocts a feast of words and images from her Arab-American experience…[she] recounts a textured immigrant tale filled with heartfelt dishes…Rich, dense, and flavorful.”

Abu-Jaber's most recent book, Origin (WW Norton, 2008), a page-turner set in her childhood hometown of Syracuse, explores issues of memory and identity.  Origin was named one of the best books of the year by the LA Times, the Chicago Tribune, and The Washington Post.

Abu-Jaber received her MA from the University of Windsor, where she studied with Joyce Carol Oates. She later attended SUNY-Binghamton for her Ph.D.  She  has taught creative writing, film studies, and contemporary literature at a number of universities, including the University of Nebraska, the University of Michigan, the University of Oregon, UCLA, Portland State University and the University of Miami.

Her stories, editorials and book, film and food reviews have appeared in literary publications as well as in the popular press, including Ploughshares, the North American Review, Kenyon Review, Story, Good Housekeeping, Ms., Salon, Vogue, Gourmet, The New York Times, The Nation, the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times.  She is frequently featured on National Public Radio and recently wrote and produced an hour-long personal documentary for NPR entitled The Language of Peace.
 
Abu-Jaber and her husband Scott make their home in Miami, Florida. She is currently at work on a new novel, Gracie at the Table.
 
Selected Lecture Topics
  • Writing and creativity
  • Multiculturalism and identity politics
  • Food and creativity
  • The art of the novel and the memoir
Selected Books
  • Birds of Paradise  (W.W. Norton, 2011)
  • Origin (W.W. Norton, 2008)
  • The Language of Baklava, a culinary memoir (Pantheon/Vintage, 2005).
  • Crescent (W.W. Norton, 2003)
  • Arabian Jazz (Harcourt Brace, 1993 and reissued by W.W. Norton, 2003)
Awards

2008  Florida Book Award bronze medal
2004  PEN Center USA Award for Literary Fiction for Crescent
2004  American Book Award for Crescent 
2003  Christian Science Monitor, 20 Noteworthy Novels of 2003 for Crescent 
2002  Finalist, Pushcart Prize for short fiction 
1996  Fulbright Research Award, Amman, Jordan 
1994  Oregon Book Award for Arabian Jazz 
1994  Finalist, PEN/Hemingway Award for Arabian Jazz 
1994  National Endowment for the Arts Writing Fellowship

Media

For more information about Diana Abu-Jaber and her work please visit www.dianaabujaber.com


         

With the narrator, Lena Dawson, we get someone entirely new, a hybrid of forensic science and animal instinct. Here’s a brilliant protagonist who can trust her intuition when she reaches the limits of her professional training.

—Chuck Palahniuk



Abu_jaber_crescent

Abu-Jaber_Arabian Jazz

Suffused with energy, sympathy and sneaky wit ... It's clear that Ms. Abu-Jaber is a writer of talent.

The New York Times Book Review



From the first page the prose glitters, dreams, takes risks ... Abu-Jaber is also exploring the nature of Arab-American life, providing an essential portrait of a keen and dimensional community ... Full of life and substance and heart...this is a book written by a woman who fully knows how to inhabit her tale.

Beth Kephart, Chicago Tribune



Abu-Jaber's voluptuous prose features insights into the Arab-American community that are wisely, warmly depicted.
 
San Francisco Chronicle



A timely fiction about Iraqi intellectuals in Los Angeles blends the whimsy of Scheherazade-style storytelling with the urgency of contemporary politics...What might have been the stuff of any romance is forged into a powerful story about the loneliness of exile and the limits of love.

 Kirkus Reviews


Abu-Jaber's language is miraculous....It is not possible to stop reading.

Booklist (starred review)



A story that unfolds beautifully, as lightly and naturally as a roll of silk.
 
The Nation



Diana Abu-Jaber has the right combination of satirical eye and ear for the play of cultural dissonances, and a deeply affectionate commitment to the central characters' destinies.

The Women's Review of Books



Lush, poignant, and searing…unfolds with all the startling beauty of a hidden garden.

Connie May Fowler