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Three Champions: Diana Abu-Jaber

I want to preface this first edition of my champions by saying that I hope these do not come off as lackluster or insignificant moments. They indeed were not life altering or profound, they were more subtle than that. These people did not save my life, but they did help mold me and/or encouraged my current path of pursuing writing. After all, it is impossible to say what the smallest impact has on our lives; the beat of a butterfly’s wings and all that. I may never be a tornado, but I appreciate every small push in that direction; especially since they are so rare.

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When I was thirty-one, I enrolled at Portland State University; entering the English program in order to finish my bachelor’s degree. After seven years of being a stay-at-home mom and suddenly needing to support myself I was looking for career guidance; some inspiration for my new life. Looking back this may not have been the wisest plan as a BA in English is a bit of a dead end it turns out.

I had hoped my time at PSU would offer more direction as far as a career path. I had hoped some professor might recognize my hidden genius and encourage some path or another. That didn’t happen. Wether because my professors were too busy or too blind to recognize my incredible talents I do not know. If I am honest they likely didn’t notice because the genius does not exist. Even so, my papers were always returned with praise and I found it easy to ace most of my classes. My real talent seemed to lay in being an adult student.

There was one moment of praise that stands out during my time at PSU; it came when I took a creative writing class. Local author and PSU professor, Diana Abu-Jaber, has written beautiful and prize-winning works which I highly recommend (Birds of Paradise, The Language of Baklave, and Crescent). I had read some of her works before the course and was excited to learn from her. The course was online, sadly, and I never got to meet her, but the format did allow for a lot of ongoing dialogue about writing and commentary on the works we produced for class. Abu-Jaber was a kind and gentle guide who dealt out encouraging suggestions.

There was one piece, a final project, of which I was particularly proud. I had felt inspired writing it and had spent a great deal of time rethinking and editing it. Upon submission the comments back from Abu-Jaber meant a lot. I don’t remember her whole critique of the piece, only that she told me I had, “lovely prose”. A simple thing, maybe even silly to hang onto, but it meant enough to keep me chugging away at this writing thing. I figured if someone with lovely prose, thought I had lovely prose, then maybe I truly did. Sometimes the smallest nuggets are enough fuel to burn on for years.

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