Diana Abu-Jaber (ديانا أبوجابر) often writes about issues of identity and culture. She is an author and a teacher at Portland State University. She was born in 1960 in Syracuse, New York. Her father was Jordanian and her mother was American, descended from Irish and German roots. At the age of seven she moved with her family for two years to Jordan. She currently divides her time between Miami and Portland. is the author of the novels Arabian Jazz and Crescent. Crescent was awarded the 2004 PEN Center USA Award for Literary Fiction and the Before Columbus Foundation's American Book Award and was named one of the twenty best novels of 2003 by The Christian Science Monitor. Arabian Jazz won the 1994 Oregon Book Award and was nominated for the PEN/Faulkner Award. She is also the author of a memoir, The Language of Baklava, and Origin (2007) the first in a new mystery series staring Lena, a highly gifted, intuitive fingerprint expert.
In her own words .....
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.
People often ask me about my American mother, and whether she also told stories. Actually, my mother is not a native storyteller in the way my father is, but it may be that she has taught me something even more valuable, which is how to listen to stories. She made a space in our home for my father to invent himself, and her attentiveness and focus showed me that sometimes being quiet can be just as transformative as speaking.
I have two younger sisters and we grew up in little snow-bound houses in Syracuse, New York, and then spent some time living among courtyards and trellised jasmine and extended family in Amman, Jordan, before we all moved back to Syracuse again. My father could not make up his mind about which country we should live in. In America, he constantly reminded us that we were good Arab girls; we weren't allowed to go out to parties or school dances. But then he encouraged us to study singlemindedly, to compete as intensely as any boy, and to always make our own way in the world.
My father's brothers are doctors and scholars and politicians. And it was determined that I would receive my undergraduate degree from SUNY-Oswego because one of my uncles taught there and could keep an eye on me while I lived in a dormitory. When I finally struck out on my own to do my graduate work, I instinctively sought out mentors—the next best thing to uncles, in my mind—going for my M.A. at the University of Windsor, to study with Joyce Carol Oates, and then my Ph.D. from SUNY-Binghamton, to work with John Gardner.
In school, I started writing stories that I think shared a certain kinship with my father's stories in that they gave me a way to imagine myself in the world. After graduate school, I taught creative writing, film studies, and contemporary literature at a number of different universities, including the University of Nebraska, the University of Michigan, UCLA, and the University of Oregon. All of these places had something new to teach me about being an American. I moved around for work, but I think I also like to move. While there's a certain rootlessness and solitude to nomadism, I suppose that I am, as my father asserts, fundamentally a Bedouin. I am driven to exploration and conversation despite my best efforts to sit quietly in one place. I would just as happily host a dinner party as give a reading, and my chronically social nature frequently disrupts anything like a real work ethic.
Even in my work, I am restless—while I'm prone to write novels, I am also crazy about writing restaurant and film reviews, interviewing politicians and profiling county fairs, and fantasizing about writing a Great Arab-American Screenplay. My new idea is to live beside the ocean with my husband and my nervous little Italian greyhound, and to work outside under an umbrella with a pitcher of lemonade and a plate of cookies. Once again, I will attempt to settle down and write for hours and hours at a time, the way I am told one must. But I suppose that I will end up, as usual, inviting friends or family over so I don't eat all the cookies myself. We will sit outside together, contemplating our origins and destinations, and begin telling each other stories again.