Diana Abu-Jaber

Headshot of a woman.

Photo by Deborah Kerry Charles

Music Credit:  “NY” composed and performed by Kosta T, from the cd Soul Sand. Used courtesy of the Free Music Archive.

Jo Reed: From the National Endowment for the Arts, This is Art Works. I’m Josephine Reed

Today a conversation with the extraordinary storyteller Diana Abu-Jaber, renowned for her literary fiction and memoirs that explore themes of culture and family often against a backdrop of food and recipes. She's the author of eight books, including the critically acclaimed memoirs "The Language of Baklava" and "Life Without a Recipe," and the novels "Birds of Paradise," and "Arabian Jazz," and most recently "Fencing with the King," a compelling story of family secrets, displacement, and the search for identity in a complex and ever-changing world.

 Her work has been recognized with many honors, including a PEN Center USA Award and the Oregon Book Award which she’s won three times. Raised in a culturally diverse household with a Jordanian father and an Irish-American mother, Diana's experiences navigating these worlds has contributed to the richness and depth of her storytelling--- and that is exactly where I began my conversation with Diana Abu-Jaber.

Jo Reed: Diana, you grew up in a multicultural household and that is often at the heart of your books. So why don't we begin by you giving us a little bit of your background? 

Diana Abu-Jaber: Sure. My father was an immigrant to this country from Jordan and he came when he was a young man, about his early 20s. So a lot of his identity was really formed in the Middle East, and he didn't really speak English at all when he got to this country. My mother was a student at Syracuse University, Irish Catholic background, and the two of them met up and had never seen the like of each other, <laughs> and they had this sort of instant attraction. They raised their family mostly in the United States. We moved back and forth between Jordan several times because my father was kind of convinced that America was a mistake that was about to be cleared up, <laughs> and that all we had to do was move back to the Middle East and resume our normal lives and everything would be fine. He always struggled with that. Through my entire childhood, that was his narrative and his challenge, the idea that he was living in the place where he wasn't meant to be, and that his kids were living in the wrong country. So he used to say “Don't get confused, you're not Americans.” Even though you look American, you sound American, you dress American, and you're living in America, you are actually secretly Jordanians, and someday that will be proved to you. So, <laughs> that was my background. 

Jo Reed: That directive, which is in contradiction <laughs> to your lived life, really motivates a lot of your writing. 

Diana Abu-Jaber: It does. I think a lot of my writing comes directly out of that experience, the tension between identities and the tension between cultures, and how-- well, so many of us actually experience it in various ways, not necessarily through immigration. But for a lot of us, we move around, or we feel caught between generations, we feel caught between different identities. I feel like that's where so much of the juice of art work lies, is in the tense places, the uncertain places and the shadowy places. That's where I like to go.

Jo Reed: Yeah, I agree. You've written two memoirs, “The Language of Baklava”, and then more recently, you returned to memoir with “Life Without a Recipe”. Tell me why? Why did you come back to the memoir? 

Diana Abu-Jaber: Well, the first memoir was, in many ways, my father's recipes. “Language of Baklava” really looks at my early childhood and what it was like to try to form that early identity of being told one thing and experiencing another. When the time came that my husband and I started a family, it was like a new identity arrived at that moment, not just my daughter, but my identity as a mother, and as a family rather than as a couple. I started to feel like I wanted to write about my recipes, my way of forging an identity, and -- I don't want to say compromise, but the creative construction of a new identity in the world, what that looked like for me and what it could look like for other people. If you have lots of different sources of information and lots of different possibilities to choose from, how do you cobble it together? What do you do to make a new, interesting life for yourself? So yeah, it was a shift to my recipes and “Life Without a Recipe”. 

Jo Reed: Well, one thing the book explores, among <laughs> many others, is your close relationship with your mother's mother, who's named Grace, who was an accomplished baker. And your father, who was an extraordinary cook, and their intense struggle <laughs> with each other over first your mother, but then you. You told us a little bit about your father, tell us about Grace? 

Diana Abu-Jaber: She was a big influence on me. I think, in many ways, she saw the writer in me, and she wanted to help cultivate that creativity and that imaginative life. I think maybe, for herself, she had perhaps felt a little stymied at times, and she wanted a freer life. She used to say to me “When you grow up, it's going to be a whole new world. You are going to be freer than I was. You are going to have a woman President. You are going to have all kinds of possibilities that I didn't get to have as a young woman.” So I benefited enormously from her presence. She took me to all kinds of cultural outlets. I can remember we used to dress up when I was a kid, and we would get on the bus, because she didn't drive. We would take the bus from her home in Elizabeth, New Jersey, into New York, and we would go to places like the Russian Tea Room and wear white gloves, and go up for an afternoon of being ladies, having tea. Perhaps we would go to a Broadway show, or go to see the Rockettes. This was her way of cultivating me and helping shape me and helping me to see that the world was much larger, and there were many, many more possibilities than I might’ve thought of as a little suburban kid in upstate New York. So she was a great source of support and inspiration. 

Jo Reed: Well, both Grace and your father, Bud, they really thrived in a kitchen. Grace the baker and your dad the cook, but cooking and baking are two very different crafts, and it really does speak to their distinct personalities. Boy, did they clash.

Diana Abu-Jaber: Oh, <laughs> yes. They really did have a kind of ongoing war between the two of them. My grandmother truly was a baker. She had that baker's personality. She was precise and scientific and measured, and that's how she saw the world. My father was creative and slapdash and kind of bold and audacious and really believed in improvisation, and that's how he cooked. He was a fabulous cook. I mean, people would comment on it and come from all around to eat his food. But that was a very different mindset and a very different worldview than my grandmother had. I think there was a sense that they were always sort of fighting for us, the grandkids and the children. Gran was really kind of scared that dad was going to take us away. In many ways, she wasn't completely off the mark because occasionally during my childhood, my parents would announce out of the blue “Hey, kids, we're moving to Jordan,” <laughs> and they would do that. They would sell all the furniture, all our clothes. We'd have a few suitcases. We'd get on a plane, and we'd fly to Jordan and start all over again. My poor grandmother would be back home in New Jersey bewailing this and not knowing if she'd ever see us again. So, this happened several times. Luckily or unluckily, each time my father would eventually get disenchanted with Jordan and bring us back to the States. But that tension and that anxiety between the two of them, who owned the children, who owned our souls, that was always there in the air between them. 

Jo Reed: Your father, gosh, to say he was larger than life just doesn't seem to do him justice from the way he's portrayed in the book. While it is an utter delight to read, I can imagine it's a little more complicated when it's your dad. <laughter> I wonder how that shaped first your upbringing, but then also impacted your storytelling? 

Diana Abu-Jaber: Well, he really was a storyteller. He and all his brothers were big weavers of tales, and that was my experience at the dinner table. I can remember so many nights, one uncle or another, or a group of them would be over at the house and we'd finish eating. My mother would get up, she'd start collecting the dishes, and she would say “And now the Irish Catholic will do the dishes and the Arabs will tell their stories.” <laughter> I can remember thinking “Oh, I want to tell the stories. <laughs> That's the side I want to be on.” I would go to my room, and I would go by the side of my bed, I would sit there, and I would write. I would tell my little stories in my notebooks, because I wasn't loud enough to compete with my uncles. They would be downstairs in the kitchen laughing and outdoing each other and competing for attention. So I learned from an early age that if you put it on paper, if you write it down, then people can choose to read it and you don't have to actually shout it into the air <laughter>. 

Jo Reed: You don't have to out-yell anyone. 

Diana Abu-Jaber: Exactly. <laughter> It was my way of out-yelling. 

Jo Reed: Yeah, and outlasting. 

Diana Abu-Jaber: Yes, exactly. Well, one of my uncles, when my first book was published, he came up to me. Several of them were academics and also writers, and he said to me “How many pages is your novel?” <laughs> I didn't know exactly. I said “Around 300 pages.” He said “Mine is 350.” So, <laughter> it never ends. 

Jo Reed: Well, writing memoir means exposing yourself as well as others, and you do. I mean, you take us through three marriages, which marriage number three being the jackpot for you both. Congratulations. 

Diana Abu-Jaber: <laughs> Thank you.

Jo Reed: You struggled for a long time about whether or not to have children. Often you were resting on “No, I don't want to,” but you really shifted, and you take us through that decision. 

Diana Abu-Jaber: Yeah, it was a tough one, because I got the message very early in my career that a woman writer had to choose. I think the first person who said this to me was the writer John Gardner. He was teaching at SUNY Binghamton, where I got my graduate degree, and he told me that because I was a woman, I really had to choose between writing and starting a family. He said “If you have children, you're going to stop writing,” and that it's not a luxury that women can afford. I think for men, the assumption is that the woman, the mother will take care of the children and free the man up to write. In a way, I think he was being very pragmatic about it. You know, it was a very tricky thing to tell a young woman, and it was something that stuck with me for many years, because several of my advisors, several other faculty ended up telling me pretty much exactly the same thing over the years, “You have to choose. Because you're a woman, you can't do both.” I just decided, I'm not sure I would say it was entirely because of this, but largely it played a big part. I just thought “Okay, so I'm not going to do it. I won't have kids.” But life has a way of catching up to you. Over the years, it just kept coming back to me, this desire and this drive, the idea of having kids and seeing writers who were doing both, and doing them beautifully. I was friends with Jane Smiley in Iowa, and she had three wonderful kids running around the house and she was publishing and writing away. So I saw the other possibility being modeled to me as I move through my career, and I started to realize “Hey, there's a lot more that's possible in this world.” But it took me years. Oh, and then I had to beat my poor husband into submission. That's another thing. <laughs> Because when we first met, I was still saying “No, I don't want to have kids. No, no, that's fine,” and he was all on board with that. I had to change his mind as well as mine. But eventually we got on the same page. 

Jo Reed: You also write very clearly that there was a transition in your approach to work after  your daughter Gracie came into your life. 

Diana Abu-Jaber: Yeah, you make do. You start to figure out the ways that you can make things happen. I mean, I still was getting up with her in the night when she woke up, and I would put her on my lap and I'd sit at my desk and she'd sleep on my lap while I typed on <laughs> my laptop. You figure out how to strike that balance. Yes, I had a lot of luxurious free time pre-children, and I could get up first thing in the morning and roll over to my desk when I felt like it, and bang out a few hours of work. That all had to change. But I do feel like you become more conscious and more deliberate about these kinds of processes because you have these challenges, because of limitations, you become more fruitful, often. You become more disciplined. You become more productive. You just have to accept the new situation and rise to the occasion. 

Jo Reed: In the memoir, you also take us through your father's death. It really is a pivotal moment in the memoir, and I wonder how you navigated the emotional complexity about writing about this incredible loss? 

Diana Abu-Jaber: That was a tough one. I will say that the first draft or couple of drafts, even, of “Life Without a Recipe”, I didn't talk about my father's death. I kind of had this attitude, like “This is my book and if I don't want my father to die, he's not going to, and <laughs> I'm not going to acknowledge it, and I'm just going to write around it.” But I was teaching creative writing all along and I would go into the classroom and I would say to my students “Take the emotional risk.” I told them over and over again, “You can't be afraid in your writing. You have to go to the hard places. You go to the tough places, the places that you don't want to go.” You have to write into the shadows, because that's where the juice is. I would come home and I realized I was doing exactly what I told students not to do, which was avoiding my deepest truth. So finally, one day I thought “I'm going to try to write about it, but I'm not going to put it in the book,” and that's what I did. I wrote the chapter where I talk about dad's passing and as soon as I finished writing it, I knew it had to go in the book. So it was kind of a thing I had to dare myself to do. As soon as I did it, I realized that's what I needed to have all along. 

Jo Reed: Well, after the memoir, you went back to writing fiction. You wrote a YA novel. Your recent book is “Fencing with the King”. I wonder if your experiences writing “Life Without a Recipe” sort of inform that writing of “Fencing with the King”? 

Diana Abu-Jaber: That's an interesting idea. It may be that there was something that kind of liberated me with “Life Without a Recipe”, because that book really is about claiming your truth, claiming my experience, no matter who approves or disapproves. That's a big bugaboo for a lot of writers. I have so many students who they'll come up to me and they'll say “I want to write about this or that episode in my life, but I'm afraid of hurting people.” They'll shy away from talking about certain experiences precisely because they're afraid of being rejected. They're afraid of the outcome. They're afraid of getting blowback from family members. That does happen all the time. But that, again, is about giving yourself permission. I can remember telling another writer, this was someone in my writing group, “You get to tell your story. You own your story. You claim it. It belongs to you. No one else gets to tell your story. You do it. If they want to tell their story, that's their right as well.” The idea here isn't to silence yourself or to silence anyone. The idea is to make the conversation bigger, to tell your side of things, to do it as truthfully as you can, as honestly as you can, and then to invite others to do the same, especially if they don't agree. “Great. You don't agree? Let's hear your side of things.” But never, never try to silence yourself or silence anyone else. So, with “Life Without a Recipe”, I had to do that. I had to kind of speak a truth. With “Fencing with the King”, there were a lot of elements of my family background that went into that book, and it felt like I was telling some forbidden tales. I mean, everything is deeply masked and disguised and altered. But still, the family truths that went into that book, they're there. I needed to have that sense of confidence, that sense of authority in my perspective, my experience with what happens with family betrayal, particularly family betrayal and deception, and to be able to speak about it in a clear, open way, truly to write the narrative for “Fencing with the King”. 

Jo Reed: Well, can you give us just a thumbnail sketch of the plot of “Fencing with the King”? 

Diana Abu-Jaber: Yeah. It has two different protagonists. There is a father and a daughter. The daughter finds a letter in one of her father's books, and she learns that it came from her grandmother. But she never really learned anything about her father's side of the family. He kept things very secretive. So she eventually decides to go to Jordan and to learn about this letter because it's kind of mysterious. It seems to be confessing to something kind of dark. Her father decides to join her, and he has his own struggles with another family member, a brother. And it's about these two people, this father and daughter, who have to go back to the Middle East in order to solve kind of two different family mysteries. What happened to these people in their past, particularly the grandmother. Partly it's about the experience of the Palestinians, actually. Because the grandmother was from Palestine and she had to flee Palestine as a young girl. There is a kind of mystery that many Palestinians and other people in exile have to confront, the mystery of what's left behind. That's something that is a part of my family because my grandmother's side of the family is Palestinian. It's a phenomenon that I wanted to look at more closely, what happens when you're forced to leave your home? What happens when you have to leave behind so much of where you came from and who you were? Who do you become in the new world? Is that truly who you are? So, that's kind of a long-winded explanation of the novel, but that's essentially it. 

Jo Reed: Well, Amani is the daughter and she's in her 30s and she's divorced. So, she's not a kid, she's a grown woman. Her long-dead grandmother, Natalia, who is Palestinian, she had to flee Palestine because of the Turks at the end of World War I. So, this is a long history of displacement, I think. 

Diana Abu-Jaber: That's right, that's exactly right. That's what happened with my grandmother. The dissolution of the Ottoman Empire was happening around the time that my grandmother was living in Palestine, and she and my great-grandmother, the two of them left the country because there was so much turmoil and so much danger. They ended up emigrating to Jordan and beginning their lives over with my grandfather's family in the town of Salt. 

Jo Reed: You say in the little foreword to the book that your father actually did fence with King Hussein. So you really have to tell us this, because I read that four times, saying “Really? Really?” 

Diana Abu-Jaber: <laughter> It's wild. It's something that I did not know growing up. My dad was full of surprises. This used to happen to us from time to time, where suddenly dad would know something that the average person doesn't really have access to. One time we were at a dude ranch and <laughs> the owner brought out his beautiful horse. It was some kind of gorgeous thing. My father was looking at it, he started patting it and he asked the owner “Can I get on it?” The owner said “Well, oh, no, this horse is quite rambunctious. This is for an advanced rider.” My father leapt on this horse and galloped away. <laughs> My mother stood there with her jaw open. None of us knew my father knew anything about riding horses. It turned out that dad, when he was in the military, he was kind of, I guess you'd say selected out to be part of this smaller coterie of young men who were trained in some of these royal arts. So he learned about horseback riding. He learned about falconry. He learned polo. He learned fencing. They were essentially being trained up as co-competitors, sparring partners for King Hussein of Jordan. So dad had an aptitude for a lot of these things. He wasn't an academic person, he was a physical person. He was strong and healthy and energetic and skilled. So he became a regular sparring partner of King Hussein, and they tell me he was the King's favorite. I didn't learn any of this until I was an adult and I went to Jordan on a Fulbright grant when I was about 30 years old, and my uncle started telling me these things, “Your father knows how to fly falcons. Your father knows how to fence. Your father knows how to raise Saluki dogs.” I would call dad up, I would say “Is this true?” I didn't believe it. I'd say “Really? Does this happen?” He'd say “<laughter> Oh, yeah, I did that. Sure.” “Why didn't you tell me?” <laughs>. 

Jo Reed: How do you not put that in a book? 

Diana Abu-Jaber: Right, <laughs> exactly. It had to come out at some point. So, eventually it did. 

Jo Reed: There's another moment in the book that I think reflects your own history, and that's when Amani is visiting a castle and an old caretaker sees her. Did that happen to you? 

Diana Abu-Jaber: It did happen to me. It did, pretty similarly to the way it happens in the novel. I was there on my Fulbright, and my editor, actually, Elaine, she flew out to Jordan to spend some time with me there. The two of us went to this Crusader Castle. They're dotted across the Middle East, and there are several in Jordan. They're essentially abandoned castles that were put up, and this one that we went to was called the Pleasure Palace. It was filled with frescoes of naked women and <laughs> people eating fruit and lounging about and having orgies, that kind of thing. So we were walking around this castle and it seemed so abandoned. I wasn't really sure we were meant to be there. I was starting to get nervous. It felt like we were somehow intruding. I saw this man coming toward us out of the dust, basically. There was this blowing wind and sand was in the air, and he was coming through with these pack of dogs that all looked a bit feral. He had this very stern, almost angry expression on his face, and I could see that he had drawn a bead on me. He was scowling directly at me, and I thought “Oh my gosh. I mean, we are in trouble here.” And he came right up to me with this really angry expression, and he pointed at me and he said “Anissa?” Anissa was my grandmother's name, and it turned out that he had known my grandmother when he was a young man. I said “Anissa Abu-Jaber?” I said “That was my grandmother.” He said “My gosh, you look just like her.” The funny thing is, no one had ever said that to me. If anything, people would just tell me I looked American. So it was a really interesting moment for me. It made me feel like there are things about our pasts that we have no idea of. We cannot fathom some of these connections. They're there and sometimes they appear. So, yes, I worked that into the novel.

Jo Reed: It was really such an important moment, I thought, in that book. I was really moved by it. 

Diana Abu-Jaber: It was an experience that stayed with me so powerfully after that happened, because it made me feel like I was being claimed in a way. That was a pivotal point for Amani in the novel, that idea that a place can stake its claim on you. Whether you <laughs> claim it or not, it can come up and tell you “Guess what, part of you is of this place, whether you understand that or not.” I feel like that is what happened when that ghostly presence was making itself felt. 

Jo Reed: I wonder when you first began writing, if there were books that offered glimpses for you into your background, your thoughts? Arab-American literature is certainly burgeoning now, but I imagine when you were coming up, it was still not as prominent.

Diana Abu-Jaber: Yeah, that's a good way to put it. When I was in graduate school, I looked for books that could kind of give me a little bit of a reflection on my own experience, and it was tough. This was back in the late ‘80s, and gosh, I hadn't discovered Naomi Shihab Nye's poetry yet, or a number of the wonderful younger writers who are hitting the mainstream now. I was reading Khalil Gibran. <laughs> That was what I had in my library that spoke to a Middle Eastern background. But otherwise, I would really say it was writers like Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Louise Erdrich, women who were from different cultural backgrounds. Philip Roth, to a certain extent, the Jewish-American experience spoke to me. The idea of writing from a place that wasn't at the center of the spotlight. For years, I thought that we had to write like John Updike, that John Updike represented what literature was meant to be. That John Updike represented what literature was meant to be, basically straight white men. That was what I was taught in school. John Updike, John Cheever, John Irving. White guys named John. <laughs> That was what I got. So, when I discovered Toni Morrison, when I started reading Leslie Marmon Silko, it was thrilling. Maxine Hong Kingston, wow, “Woman Warrior”. These were people who were writing from different cultural and gendered experiences, and different class experiences, and that was thrilling to me. It let me know that while I may not have seen exactly my story, that maybe there was room for my story, and that was the encouragement and the inspiration I needed. 

Jo Reed: What about now? How do you see Arab-American literature evolving in our contemporary literary landscape? How do you see it shaping the broader narratives of American literature? 

Diana Abu-Jaber: Oh, wow. It's just happening. It's really come right into the mainstream and getting so much attention. So many wonderful young writers. I don't want to start naming names, because then I forget people. There's just so many great new writers out there, and I shouldn't just say all new. A lot of people who've been laboring for literal decades who are finally having their stories and their words break through. I think it's really kind of a turning point for so many of us. 

Jo Reed: Diana, here's the question. How is cooking like writing? 

Diana Abu-Jaber: Ooh. <laughs> Well, it depends on if you're a cook or a baker. For me, I suppose I have both in me. But I think from a cook's perspective, writing is meant to be done in a spirit of freedom and boldness and generosity. So you learn the rules, preferably. I think it's easier if you learn the rules. You read the people who come before you, and you familiarize yourself with what's been done and what can be done, and maybe also what hasn't been done yet. You learn the rules like you learn your mise en place in cooking. You learn your ingredients. You learn techniques. But then when you come to the stove or the counter, the chopping block, then you start to take chances. You bring things together that might be unexpected and you have to keep tasting. You have to keep reading and testing and thinking about it. Personally, I think the freer you are, the looser you are, the more spirit can come into your creation, the more energy and excitement, and then maybe you're going to have to edit somewhat. That's part of the artistic process as well. It's harder to edit with cooking. <laughs> Cooking, it's like you add too much salt or sugar and you're in trouble. 

Jo Reed: But you edit with the next meal. 

Diana Abu-Jaber: Yes! <laughs> You learn and you try again and again and again. 

Jo Reed: It's like a revision. 

Diana Abu-Jaber: Yes, exactly. <laughter> My daughter was just making crepes this morning and the first batch didn't turn out right. She analyzed the problem, she went back in and did it again, and the crepes are beautiful. So, same thing. 

Jo Reed: Food is also such a powerful bridge between cultures, not unlike literature. 

Diana Abu-Jaber: Yes. To me, that's the great hope of the metaphor of food. It's the universal language. It's the thing that we can all connect to. Everyone relates to a great meal, the satisfaction, the soul satisfaction of eating well, eating something delicious and doing it with another person. By sharing the rituals of cooking and sitting down and preparing to eat, and eating, all these things bind us together. I truly believe that is the way to a shared conversation. That's essentially what we try to do with cooking and with writing. 

Jo Reed: I look forward to reading both of them. Diana, thank you so much. I have to say I've gained so much weight reading your books, because I always stop and go into the kitchen and rustle something up and then go back and eat some more as I'm reading <laughter>. 

Diana Abu-Jaber: I love that. Oh, Jo, it's wonderful. 

Jo Reed: <laughter> It's the truth. 

Diana Abu-Jaber: Oh, it makes me very happy. I love it when people tell me that they try my recipe, because some of my books have actual recipes in them. That makes me so, so happy when someone will say “I tried your recipe.” It's so great because you feel like “Oh, you're not only reading me, you're participating with me.” It's a great feeling. 

Jo Reed: Yeah, exactly. Well, thank you, and thank you for the recipes too <laughs>. 

Diana Abu-Jaber: Absolutely. Thank you, Jo. 

Jo Reed: That was author Diana Abu-Jaber, we were talking her work, most specifically her memoir “Life without a Recipe” and her novel, “Fencing with the King.” You can keep up with her at http://www.dianaabujaber.com/You’ve been listening to Art Works produced at the National Endowment for the Arts. Follow us wherever you get your podcasts and leave us a rating on Apple—it will help people to find us.  

For the National Endowment for the Arts, I’m Josephine Reed. Thanks for listening

We’re closing out Arab American Heritage Month with author Diana Abu-Jaber, who discusses growing up with an Irish American mother and a Jordanian father who never felt at home in the U.S., the tensions between cultures, and the centrality of this to her writing.  We discuss her two memoirs, The Language of Baklava and Life Without a Recipe. She describes the impact her father and grandmother had on her life and how their contrasting personalities were reflected in their approaches to food: Diana's father was a passionate and improvisational cook, while her grandmother was a precise baker.  Abu-Jaber discusses the challenges of writing memoirs, the emotional risks involved in sharing personal stories, and how she navigated the difficult topic of her larger-than-life father's death.  We turn to a discussion of her latest novel, Fencing with the King, and Abu-Jaber reveals that the story was inspired by her father's experience of fencing with King Hussein of Jordan and her family's history of displacement. She reflects on the growth of Arab American literature and the increasing prominence of Arab American writers in contemporary culture.  We also discuss the similarities between cooking and writing and how food, like literature, can serve as a bridge between cultures.