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Diana Abu-Jaber

Biography / Criticism

Diana Abu-Jaber was born in 1960 in Syracuse, New York, to a Jordanian father and an American (Irish-German) mother. When she was seven, her family moved to Jordan for two years, and she has lived between the U.S. and Jordan ever since. Abu-Jaber graduated with a Ph.D. in Creative Writing from SUNY Binghamton in 1986. Her first novel, Arabian Jazz, published by Harcourt Brace in 1993, won the Oregon Book Award, and was a finalist for the National PEN/Hemingway award. The novel, set in upstate New York, where the author herself grew up, is a humorous look at a first generation Arab-American family migrating between their "Americanized" individual lives and the demands and expectations of the traditional extended family network. The characters lives and experiences demonstrate their displacement, spiritual homelessness, and the hardships of adjustment to a new society. After their mother Nora, who is a white American, dies during her first visit to Jordan, the rest of the Ramoud family is forced to navigate an unfamiliar culture without her.

Abu-Jaber molds these themes together so skillfully that the book as a whole remains witty and entertaining. While the plot centers around the interactions of the Ramouds' extended family, it also looks at their community as a whole and how a small town in New York treats Arab-Americans. In Jean Grant's review of the novel in Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, she notes that "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" (Sept. /Oct. 1993). Other reviews such as those in The Los Angeles Times and The New York Times also noted the positive effect that this novel may have on readers' common stereotypes of Arabs because the book will enlighten them about Arab culture.

Abu-Jaber won a National Endowment for the Arts award supporting the writing of her second novel, Memories of Birth. She is currently at work on a third novel, for which she has received a Fulbright research award that has allowed her to travel to Jordan, where she has interviewed Palestinian and Jordanian women.

In addition, Abu-Jaber has published numerous short stories electronically and in literary magazines such as Ploughshares, the North American Review, and Story. She has taught at the University of Oregon and UCLA and is currently Writer-in-Residence at Portland State University, where she teaches Creative Writing, Feminist Voices, Middle Eastern Literatures, and Postcolonial Literatures

Selected Bibliography

Works by the Author

Works about the Author

Related Links

Diana Abu-Jaber on Web del Sol
This site includes a biography, links to some of Abu-Jaber's work, and contact information.

Washington Report on Middle East Affairs
This site contains a review of Arabian Jazz by Jean Grant.

Ray Hanania's "The Media Oasis": Politics, Journalism, Middle East Issues
This site is an online journal devoted to Middle Eastern issues; Abu-Jaber is included in various pages, including the "Arab Literature Biographies" page, the "Writer's Conference Speaker's Biographies" page, and the site's "Arab American Book List" page.

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This page was researched and submitted by Nada Elia on 9/9/99, revised and augmented by Lindsay Lysengen on 3/27/02, edited and updated by Lauren Curtright on 8/3/04, and supplemented by Katya Rouzina in June 2007.