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Author Abu-Jaber to speak April 13 at conference

MONMOUTH, Ill. – Award-winning author Diana Abu-Jaber will deliver the keynote address at Monmouth College’s second Conference of Undergraduate Research & Scholarship, which will be held April 12-13.

Free and open to the public, Abu-Jaber’s talk will be at 11 a.m. April 13 in Dahl Chapel and Auditorium.

Abu-Jaber’s body of work explores questions of identity, memory and multiculturalism. The daughter of an American mother and a Jordanian father, she grew up in both countries, and those experiences and influences are reflected in her writing. Her first novel, Arabian Jazz – considered by many to be the first mainstream Arab-American novel – won the 1994 Oregon Book Award.

“Her stories are about navigating multiple cultures,” said Monmouth philosophy and religious studies professor Anne Mamary. “In some ways they are very American stories, since almost all of us have multiple threads in our identities.”

Abu-Jaber’s novels and memoirs have been praised for their descriptions of the Arab-American experience. Jean Grant of The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs wrote of her first book: “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.”

Abu-Jaber’s novel Crescent, which chronicles the love story of an Iraqi exile and an Iraqi-American chef, won the PEN Center Award for Literary Fiction and the American Book Award, and it has been published in eight countries. Origin, set in the author’s hometown of Syracuse, N.Y., was named one of the best books of the year by The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times and The Chicago Tribune.

Abu-Jaber’s next novel was also an award-winner: Birds of Paradise, which won the National Arab American Book Award and was named a top book pick by The Washington Post, National Public Radio, The Chicago Tribune and The Oregonian.

Abu-Jaber has taught creative writing, film studies and contemporary literature at the University of Nebraska, the University of Michigan, the University of Oregon, UCLA, Portland State University and the University of Miami. Her stories, editorials and reviews have appeared in a variety of publications, including The Kenyon Review, Good Housekeeping, Ms., Salon, Vogue, The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Los Angeles Times. She is frequently featured on NPR and wrote and produced an hour-long personal documentary for the organization entitled The Language of Peace.

Almost 80 projects have been accepted for the Conference of Undergraduate Research & Scholarship, with about 90 students participating, some in collaborative roles. Students from 28 schools, representing 14 states, will present at the conference. Undergraduate students will travel to Monmouth from as far away as California and Virginia.

“The conference is an opportunity for students from multiple disciplines to show what they’re working on,” said Monmouth sociology professor Judi Kessler, who is one of the conference’s main organizers. “Research takes them out of set classroom experiences and lets them get actively involved in learning. To me, that’s the magic of undergraduate research.”

Sponsored by the College’s Midwest Journal of Undergraduate Research and Monmouth College, with support from the Augustana College political science department, the conference will be held in the Center for Science and Business. It is also free and open to the public. To read more about the conference: