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Arts & Life


Author Diana Abu Jaber on the Oregon Book Awards

Diana Abu Jaber

Scott Eason

On Monday, April 25, Literary Arts will announce the winners of the Oregon Book Awards. According to Literary Arts, the awards “are presented annually for the finest accomplishments by Oregon writers.” Writers can win awards in the genres of fiction, literary nonfiction, drama, poetry and young readers literature.

But why does winning a book award matter? To find out, we spoke with Diana Abu Jaber, who won an Oregon Book Award in 1994 for her novel, Arabian Jazz.

Q&A with Author Diana Abu Jaber

How do book awards compare to other forms of encouragement for writers, like getting a book deal, positive reviews in literary magazine and selling books?

They’re all good, but there’s something a little special about a book award. I think that there’s a series of gates that writers pass through, but you rarely feel like you’ve arrived because there’s always another one. A book award makes you feel like you’ve gotten some sort of affirmation and acknowledgement. And usually it’s acknowledgment from people you admire and that makes it all the more special.

Do you think that winning an Oregon Book Award had an effect on your career?

I think it did. I think it was a wonderful sign of recognition from my community. I hadn’t been living in Oregon for that long. I’d been at the University of Michigan before I came to Oregon. It was my first time living on the West Coast. It was all very new to me. It felt like this wonderful sense of welcome both as a writer and as a writer in the Northwest. It gave me a sense of legitimacy, at least in my own mind! There’s nothing like getting an award like that to make you think, I’m not alone here, laboring in a vacuum. It makes you feel like it’s all worthwhile.

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Oregon Book Awards

Can you describe the awards ceremony?

It was thrilling. It was held at what was then known as the Portland Intermediate Theatre, next to the Arlene Schnitzer. I was teaching at the University of Oregon at the time. Coming from Eugene, the lights of Portland all seemed very glittery. There were so many writers whose names I knew, and even if I didn’t know them personally I knew their work. It was really an exciting environment to be in.

Did you give a speech?

When you get called to the stage they give you a little bit of time to talk. During my acceptance speech I talked about how Arabian Jazz got some funny responses when it first went out to publishers. One editor turned my novel down because she thought that Arabs were ‘politically inappropriate.’ So I told the audience at the awards, ‘Thank you for this tremendous affirmation.’ It was a great sense of poetic justice rendered.

On April 29, Emily Harris will interview one or two Oregon Book Award winners on Think Out Loud. That should give you about three days after the winners are announced to read one of the winning books and call in with your questions!

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