Abu-Jaber, Diana 1959–
Abu-Jaber, Diana 1959–
(Diana Abu Jaber)
∗ Indicates that a listing has been compiled from secondary sources believed to be reliable, but has not been personally verified for this edition by the author sketched.
PERSONAL: Born November 5, 1959, in Syracuse, NY; daughter of Ghassan ("Bud") and Patricia (a teacher) Abu-Jaber; married Scott Eason, September 9, 2001. Education: State University of New York College at Oswego, B.A., 1980; University of Windsor, M.A., 1982; State University of New York at Binghamton, Ph.D., 1986. Hobbies and other interests: Painting, running.
ADDRESSES: Home—Portland, OR; and Miami, FL. Office—Department of English, Portland State University, P.O. Box 751, Portland, OR 97207. Agent—Joy Harris, Joy Harris Literary Agency, 156 Fifth Ave., Ste 617, New York, NY 10010-7002. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Iowa State University, Ames, IA, visiting assistant professor of English, 1990; University of Oregon, Eugene, assistant professor of English, 1990–95; Portland State University, Portland, OR, writer-in-residence and associate professor of English, 1996–. Guest on radio programs, including "Fresh Air" and "Morning Edition," National Public Radio.
AWARDS, HONORS: National Endowment for the Arts writing fellow, 1994–96; Oregon Book Award and nomination for PEN/Hemingway Award, both 1994, both for Arabian Jazz; Fulbright Research Award, 1996; named one of the top women writers by Vanity Fair, 2003; citation for one of the twenty best novels of 2003, Christian Science Monitor, PEN Center USA Award for Literary Fiction, 2004, and American Book Award, Before Columbus Foundation, 2004, all for Crescent; Northwest Distinguished Author Award, Willamette Writers, 2004; notable book citation, Booksense, 2005, and Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award, 2006, both for The Language of Baklava; National Endowment for the Arts fellow in fiction.
Arabian Jazz (novel), Harcourt (New York, NY), 1993.
Crescent (novel), W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 2003.
The Language of Baklava (memoir), Pantheon Books (New York, NY), 2005.
Contributor to books, including The Literary Cookbook, 2005, Why I'm Still Married, Hudson Street Press (New York, NY), Penguin, 2006, and True Stories from the Mid-Life Underground, Doubleday (New York, NY), 2006. Contributor to periodicals, including Southern Review, New York Times, Good Housekeeping, Washington Post, and Middle East Report.
WORK IN PROGRESS: Origin: A Novel.
SIDELIGHTS: Diana Abu-Jaber was born in New York state, the daughter of an American mother and a Jordanian father. The family lived in New York until Diana was seven years old; at that time they moved to Annan, the capital of Jordan. In the ensuing years, they moved frequently back and forth between the two countries. Abu-Jaber recounted her own story in the memoir The Language of Baklava, published in 2005. The book is "a feast of words and images," according to Entertainment Weekly reviewer Allyssa Lee. The center of the memoir is Abu-Jaber's father, Bud, who left Jordan of his own accord, but finds himself lost in American culture. He shifts restlessly between Jordan and the United States, unable to settle in either country. Bud is passionate about food, a quality he passes on to his daughter. The Language of Baklava is replete with descriptions of meals and food, and even includes numerous recipes. Gillian Engberg, reviewing The Language of Baklava for Booklist, found it not only readable but thought-provoking, raising questions about identity and the meaning of "home." Engberg concluded: "Abu-Jaber's sly, poetic precision will leave readers breathless."
Though fiction, Abu-Jaber's first novel Arabian Jazz drew heavily on her own background. The main characters are Jemorah and Melvina Ramoud, two sisters who have emigrated with their father from Jordan to Syracuse, following the death of their American mother. There, they mingle with various colorful family members including Aunt Fatima the matchmaker. A Publishers Weekly reviewer found that the portrayal of Jemorah and Melvina's family "borders on caricature," but nevertheless praised the author's "narrative powers." People contributor Louisa Ermelino noted that Abu-Jaber "renders the people poignantly."
In her next novel, Crescent, Abu-Jaber gives readers a romance set in "Teherangeles," the area of Los Angeles that is home to many Middle Eastern expatriates. The central location is Nadia's Café, a Lebanese restaurant. The cook at Nadia's is Sirine, an Iraqi-American whose pale-skinned, blond appearance causes her to feel like an outsider in her own world. She is drawn to Hanif, an Iraqi intellectual. Sirine's story is interwoven with an ancient fable recounting the adventures of Abdelrahman Salahadin, a slave who escaped his master.
The story makes references to the real-life regime of Saddam Hussein, from which Hanif fled; but as Ron Charles noted in a review for the Christian Science Monitor, "Abu-Jaber broadens her exploration of exile to include all the various ways we're bereft of home—by the death of parents, the separation from lovers, the hunger for lost childhood." Beth Kephart, reviewing the novel for Book, called it "gorgeously written and deeply imagined."
Abu-Jaber told CA: "I began writing in order to constitute myself—as the child of Arab immigrants—as a 'whole' person. Writing is wonderfully healing."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Abu-Jaber, Diana, The Language of Baklava, Pantheon Books (New York, NY), 2005.
Book, May-June, 2003, Beth Kephart, review of Crescent, p. 77.
Booklist, June 1, 1993, Martha Schoolman, review of Arabian Jazz, p. 780; March 15, 2003, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of Crescent, p. 1273; February 15, 2005, Gillian Engerg, review of The Language of Baklava, p. 1051.
Christian Science Monitor, May 5, 2003, Ron Charles, review of Crescent.
Criticism, fall, 2001, Steven Salaita, "Sand Niggers, Small Shops, and Uncle Sam: Cultural Negotiation in the Fiction of Joseph Geha and Diana Abu-Jaber," p. 423.
Entertainment Weekly, March 25, 2005, Allyssa Lee, review of The Language of Baklava, p. 76.
Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 2003, review of Crescent, p. 156; January 1, 2005, review of The Language of Baklava, p. 27.
Library Journal, June 1, 1993, Cherry W. Li, review of Arabian Jazz, p. 186; March 1, 2003, Eleanor J. Bader, review of Crescent, p. 116; June 15, 2004, Nancy Pearl, review of Arabian Jazz, p. 112.
Nation, June 16, 2003, Charlotte Innes, review of Crescent, p. 46.
New York Times Book Review, August 14, 1994, Tom DeHaven, review of Arabian Jazz, p. 28; June 8, 2003, Anderson Tepper, review of Crescent, p. 24.
O: The Oprah Magazine, March, 2005, Elaina Richardson, review of The Language of Baklava, p. 174.
People, August 9, 1993, Louisa Ermelino, review of Arabian Jazz, p. 27.
Publishers Weekly, April 12, 1993, review of Arabian Jazz, p. 45; May 23, 1994, review of Arabian Jazz, p. 85; April 7, 2003, review of Crescent, p. 48; January 17, 2005, review of The Language of Baklava, p. 43.
School Library Journal, September, 2005, Pat Bangs, review of The Language of Baklava, p. 246.
Caffeine Destiny, http://www.caffeinedestiny.com/ (January 31, 2005), interview with Diana Abu-Jaber.
Diana Abu-Jaber's Home Page, http://www.dianaabujaber.com (December 31, 2005).
Voices from the Gaps: Women Writers of Color, http://voices.cla.umn.edu/ (January 31, 2005), biographical information on Diana Abu-Jaber.
Willamette Week Onlinehttp://www.wweek.com/ (January 31, 2005), Amy Roe, review of Crescent.