NWWS: The Language of Baklava, a panel discussion with and about Diana Abu-Jaber

May 8, 2015
2:30 pmto4:15 pm

Language_Baklava_WEBUO Knight Library
Browsing Room
1501 Kincaid St.

“Diana Abu-Jaber’s vibrant, humorous memoir weaves together stories of being raised by a food-obsessed Jordanian father with talks of Lake Ontario cookouts and feasts under Bedouin tents in the desert. These sensuously evoked meals, complete with recipes, in turn illuminate the two cultures of Diana’s childhood—American and Jordanian—while helping to paint a loving and complex portrait of her impractical, displaced father who, like many an immigrant before him, cooked to remember the place he came from and to pass that connection on to his children. The Language of Baklava invites us to sit down at the table with Diana’s family, sharing unforgettable meals that are as much about ‘grace, difference, faith, love’ as they are about food.” —from the publisher

This panel focuses on the memoir The Language of Baklava by American Book Award–winning author Diana Abu-Jaber. Abu-Jaber will read selections from her work, with commentary from UO scholars of various disciplines. This event will be followed by a reception.


  • Moderator: Michael Hames-García, director, Center for the Study of Women in Society, and professor, UO Department of Ethnic Studies.
  • Michael Fakhri, UO School of Law, and the Environmental and Natural Resource Program (co-leader of the Food Resiliency Project).
  • Melissa Hart, UO School of Journalism and Communication; author of the memoirs Gringa: A Contradictory Girlhood (Seal Press, 2009) and Wild Within: How Rescuing Owls Inspired a Family (Lyons, 2014).
  • Angela Joya, UO Department of International Studies, specializes in the Middle East and North Africa and has done fieldwork in Jordan.
  • Michael Najjar, UO Department of Theatre Arts (specializing in Arab-American Theatre and Performance, Directing, Playwriting, Contemporary Theatre and Performance). Professor Najjar is working on a screen adaptation, on spec, of Abu-Jaber’s novel Crescent.

The fourth annual CSWS Northwest Women Writers Symposium “Our Daily Bread: Women’s Stories of Food and Resilience” will take place on the University of Oregon campus and the downtown Eugene Public Library on Mother’s Day weekend, May 7 – 9, 2015.  Diana Abu-Jaber (Crescent; Birds of Paradise) is the keynote author. For a full schedule go to: http://csws.uoregon.edu/events-2/2014-nwws/csws-northwest-women-writers-symposium-2015/. All events are free and open to the public, although workshops are limited in size and will require registration during April and early May.

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.

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 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.  Her most recent book is Birds of Paradise (WW Norton, 2011).

Sponsored by the UO Center for the Study of Women in Society. Cosponsors include Eugene Public Library; Oregon Humanities Center; UO Division of Equity and Inclusion; the UO Departments of Women’s and Gender Studies, English, and Ethnic Studies; UO School of Journalism and Communication; University Health Center; UO Libraries; Wayne Morse Center for Law and Politics; and the ASUO Women’s Center.