Over the past 25 years, author Diana Abu-Jaber, who grew up on Morgan Road, has written four varied novels and two marvelous memoirs which have earned her a deserved reputation as one of our country’s top Arab-American writers.
Her most recent memoir is “Life Without a Recipe: A Memoir of Food and Family,” which draws upon Diana’s upbringing here by a Jordanian father, Ghassan (AKA Gus), and an Irish-Catholic mother, Patricia.
She’s no longer an Upstate resident. These days, the 50-something scribe teaches at Portland State University in Oregon and lives part-time in South Florida, where her widowed mother has also relocated. Diana is married to photographer Scott Eason, and the couple have a 10-year-old daughter, Grace.
Her first novel, “Arabian Jazz,” fictionalizes her local origins as Diana recalls Euclid’s “empty landscape” in the 1960s, “its bare trees like pencil scratches and a few half-hearted houses that stood against the sky.”
More than 10 years later she’d abandoned the bildungsroman for a taut and tender thriller — “Origin” — set in wintry Syracuse and narrated by a female fingerprint expert working in a gossipy city crime lab investigating a mysterious string of infant deaths.
Like “Origin,” the earlier “Arabian Jazz” vividly describes dreary Syracuse as “rotted by weather, perfumed by beer…
“The city, slanted into its hard sky, could almost have been by the ocean. But there was no ocean by Syracuse, just the finger of Onondaga Lake, gray as a bone. Farther north was Lake Ontario, which, though hidden, made itself felt in the rain and snow that wound sheets around the city, the wind driving people’s faces down into their chests like the heads of sleeping birds. Sometimes in the winter Jem couldn’t get warm, no matter how many layers she wore, and it was only in the tunnels of the city bars, protected by tavern walls, in nests of peanut shells and sawdust, that she would find some distance from the cold.”
No wonder Diana writes so strikingly about Lake Ontario. In fact, she’s a graduate of SUNY Oswego located on that Great Lakeshore, and she once wrote a weekly advice column for The Palladium-Times called “Ask Mary Ontario.”
In 1979, when still an undergraduate, Diana was crowned Miss Oswego County largely on the strength of performance points won when she gave a dramatic reading of a short story she wrote about the invention of an unlikely flying machine.
After earning a degree at Oswego, she got her master’s at Canada’s University of Windsor and her doctorate in English and creative writing at Binghamton University.
Her most recent novel, “Birds of Paradise,” won the 2012 Arab-American National Book Award and was listed among the top books of the year by National Public Radio, the Washington Post and the Oregonian. “The Language of Baklava,” her first memoir, won the Northwest Booksellers’ Award.
On Monday, Nov. 12, the SUNY Oswego alumna will deliver a Rosamond Gifford Lecture hosted by the friends of Onondaga Central Library, at 7:30 p.m. at the Mulroy Civic Center, 411 Montgomery St., down city.
Like her books, Diana has a sharp sense of humor, so her Nov. 12 lecture should be quite entertaining. Tickets cost $30 and $35; foclsyracuse.org; (315) 435-1832.
Oct. 28 marked the fifth anniversary of the village’s worst murder case ever. The victims were Samantha Rainwater, 30, and her friend, Brandy Dallas, 24, who were fatally stabbed that morning at their residence at 915 Second St. A 26-year-old Syracuse man, Justin A. Dallas, eventually pleaded guilty to the double homicide, but that day he tried to make a getaway. Immediately after the slayings, he jumped into Brandy’s gold-colored Kia and sped into the village business district.
On his way to the crime scene shortly after 11 a.m., Liverpool Police Chief Don Morris spotted the suspect driving south on Second Street near the corner of Hickory and attempted to pull over the Kia.
Sheriff’s deputies Mike Quigley and Karen Munroe joined the pursuit as it continued past Heid’s Corner to the main entrance of Onondaga Lake Park, where the Kia turned right into the park and drove across the grass directly toward the lake. Dallas jumped out of the car behind the baseball field and ran into the water.
Morris and the two deputies followed him into the lake and a brief struggle took place in waist-deep water before Dallas was placed under arrest.
The following year, Morris received a department commendation for his initiative in the Dallas arrest and was also cited for bravery by the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Office. Medals of valor were awarded to Munroe and Quigley.
Dallas is now serving a 46-year sentence at Southport Correctional Facility in Chemung County.
“I’m from the school of full disclosure and blabbermouthism.” – Diana Abu-Jaber