Diana Abu-Jaber

29th annual Key West Literary Seminar

—The Hungry Muse: An Exploration of Food in Literature—

January 6 - 16, 2011

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. 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, 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. It won the PEN Center Award for Literary Fiction, the American Book Award and has been published in eight countries to date.

Again using cuisine as the fulcrum of her narrative, her next book– the culinary memoir The Language of Baklava– chronicles her own experiences growing up in a food-obsessed Arab-American family during the 1970s and 1980s and each chapter is developed around one of her father’s traditional Middle Eastern recipes.

Described by Entertainment Weekly as being “as delectable for its stories as for its accompanying recipes,” in Baklava 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…”

He most recent book Origin, 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, and won the 2008 Florida Book Award bronze medal.

Abu-Jaber received her master’s degree from the University of Windsor and her doctorate at SUNY-Binghamton, where she studied with John Gardner. 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.

Abu-Jaber and her husband Scott make their home in Miami, Florida and Portland, Oregon.

Online Resources:

Diana Abu-Jaber’s website
“An Arab-American writer seeks her identity”
Powell’s interview
“Curled up with a Good Book” interview
Abu-Jaber interviewed on NPR’s “Fresh Air”

Selected Bibliography:

Birds of Paradise (W.W. Norton & Company 2011)

Origin (W.W. Norton & Company 2007)

The Language of Baklava (Pantheon Books 2005)

Crescent (W.W. Norton & Company 2003)

Arabian Jazz (Harcourt Brace & Company 1993)

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