Whatcha Reading, Diana Abu-Jaber?

Diana Abu-Jaber describes her latest novel, Birds of Paradise, as an integral part of coming to terms with the move she and her husband made from Portland to Miami several years ago. “If we were going to have a child we were going to raise it in Miami,” she explains. “A commitment to a child was also a commitment to a place. I wanted to fall in love with Miami. I knew that living there wasn’t going to suffice. I had to start giving myself to the place and demanding that it give itself to me.” As she began writing, she discovered that the novel was tapping into a fear she hadn’t even known she’d had. “The local news was all about missing kids and runaways and I realized that was one of my big parental nightmares,” she says of the decision to base her story around a family coming to terms with the eighteenth birthday of their runaway daughter. “Writing a book about what scares me is a way of trying to become braver.”

Abu-Jaber still teaches at Portland State University, and she told us about the reading lists for her two classes this semester. For a course on modern Arab-American literature, she’s assigned books by Randa Jarrar, Naomi Shihab Nye, and Mohja Kahf, “all of them approaching cultural difference from unique perspectives, and talking about what it feels like to be caught in that collision between places.” She’s is also teaching a course on the art of writing the novel, and she’s picked out several books that are “masterful in the way they approach the construction of the novel” and can give other writers valuable insights into matters of craftmanship like character, voice, and structure. Those books include:

22 December 2011 | uncategorized |