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UO Women Writers Symposium Focuses On Food, Resilience

Breeze Harper and Diana Abu-Jaber
Breeze Harper and Diana Abu-Jaber

Many unique stories and life experiences intertwine with what we eat. A group of notable authors is coming together to share these stories and experiences with Eugeneans with a theme of “Our Daily Bread: Women’s Stories of Food and Resilience” at the 2015 Northwest Women Writers Symposium put on by the UO’s Center for the Study of Women in Society.

 The speakers will also guide attendees through educational workshops. Keynote speaker and Portland State University associate professor Diana Abu-Jaber — whose book Arabian Jazz is credited as being the first mainstream Arab-American novel — is a “high-level literary voice” who straddles two cultures — American and Jordanian — and allows us to access the Jordanian side through stories that have food at their center, says event organizer Alice Evans.

“The idea of resilience is an interesting topic because it is a great challenge for anyone interested in the arts,” Abu-Jaber says. “I think it applies equally [to] men and women. None of us really have our creative expression valued, and we all have to fight for it. If you want to be a writer, this is going to pertain to your interests in a really practical way.”

For Abu-Jaber’s family, cooking and food were “some of the most creative forms of expression” in their lives, Abu-Jaber says. Cooking “is a sanctioned form of creativity,” whereas “poetry and painting are often seen as kooky or marginalized. But if you can cook well, you can really excite people and invite people in.”

Author and critical food studies scholar Breeze Harper will also give a lecture drawing largely from her new book Scars: A Black Lesbian Experience in Rural White New England, as well as running a workshop where attendees will use food writing to learn about topics such as racial inequity and anti-racism activism, Harper says.

Food is not mundane and can “tell us a lot about the current state of power and oppression when it comes to race, class, ability, sexual orientation and other social issues,” Harper says.

Harper, who is the editor of the anthology Sistah Vegan: Black Female Vegans Speak On Food, Identity, Health, and Society, will also speak about ethical consumption and what that means for different groups such as vegans, vegetarians and omnivores.

Memoirist Novella Carpenter and poet Donna Henderson will also speak, and some events will take place at the Downtown Public Library in Eugene.

The symposium is May 7-9. Call 682-5450 to register for workshops and visit csws.uoregon.edu for times. Events are free.