poem index

sign up to receive a new poem-a-day in your inbox

October 21, 2011 The Skirball Center for Performing Arts, NYU New York, NY From the Academy Audio Archive

About this poet

Naomi Shihab Nye was born on March 12, 1952, in St. Louis, Missouri, to a Palestinian father and an American mother. During her high school years, she lived in Ramallah in Palestine, the Old City in Jerusalem, and San Antonio, Texas, where she later received her BA in English and world religions from Trinity University.

Nye is the author of numerous books of poems, including Transfer (BOA Editions, 2011); You and Yours (BOA Editions, 2005), which received the Isabella Gardner Poetry Award; 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East (Greenwillow Books, 2002), a collection of new and selected poems about the Middle East; Fuel (BOA Editions, 1998); Red Suitcase (BOA Editions, 1994); and Hugging the Jukebox (Far Corner Books, 1982).

She is also the author of several books of poetry and fiction for children, including Habibi (Simon Pulse, 1997), for which she received the Jane Addams Children's Book award in 1998.

Nye gives voice to her experience as an Arab-American through poems about heritage and peace that overflow with a humanitarian spirit. About her work, the poet William Stafford has said, "her poems combine transcendent liveliness and sparkle along with warmth and human insight. She is a champion of the literature of encouragement and heart. Reading her work enhances life."

Her poems and short stories have appeared in various journals and reviews throughout North America, Europe, and the Middle and Far East. She has traveled to the Middle East and Asia for the United States Information Agency three times, promoting international goodwill through the arts.

Nye’s honors include awards from the International Poetry Forum and the Texas Institute of Letters, the Carity Randall Prize, and four Pushcart Prizes. She has been a Lannan Fellow, a Guggenheim Fellow, and a Witter Bynner Fellow. In 1988, she received The Academy of American Poets' Lavan Award, selected by W. S. Merwin.

She was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2009. She currently lives in San Antonio, Texas.


Selected Bibliography

Transfer (BOA Editions, 2011)
You and Yours (BOA Editions, 2005)
19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East (Greenwillow Books, 2002)
Fuel (BOA Editions, 1998)
Red Suitcase (BOA Editions, 1994)
Hugging the Jukebox (Far Corner Books, 1982)

Many Asked Me Not to Forget Them

Naomi Shihab Nye, 1952

Where do you keep all these people?
The shoemaker with his rumpled cough.
The man who twisted straws into brooms.
My teacher, oh my teacher. I will always cry
when I think of my teacher.
The olive farmer who lost every inch of ground,
every tree,
who sat with head in his hands
in his son's living room for years after.
I tucked them into my drawer with cuff links and bow ties.
Touched them each evening before I slept.
Wished them happiness and peace.
Peace in the heart. No wonder we all got heart trouble.
But justice never smiled on us. Why didn't it?
I tried to get Americans to think of them.
But they were too involved with their own affairs
to imagine ours. And you can't blame them, really.
How much do I think of Africa? I always did feel sad
in the back of my mind for places I didn't
have enough energy to worry about.

Originally published in Transfer (BOA Editions, 2011). Copyright © by Naomi Shihab Nye. Used with the permission of the author.

Originally published in Transfer (BOA Editions, 2011). Copyright © by Naomi Shihab Nye. Used with the permission of the author.

Naomi Shihab Nye

Naomi Shihab Nye

Naomi Shihab Nye gives voice to her experience as an Arab-American through poems about heritage and peace that overflow with a humanitarian spirit.

by this poet

poem
These shriveled seeds we plant,
corn kernel, dried bean,
poke into loosened soil,
cover over with measured fingertips
 
These T-shirts we fold into
perfect white squares
 
These tortillas we slice and fry to crisp strips
This rich egg scrambled in a gray clay bowl
 
This bed whose covers I straighten
smoothing
poem
for Sitti Khadra, north of Jerusalem
My grandmother's hands recognize grapes,   
the damp shine of a goat's new skin.   
When I was sick they followed me,
I woke from the long fever to find them   
covering my head like cool prayers.

My grandmother's days
poem

The Arabs used to say,
When a stranger appears at your door,
feed him for three days
before asking who he is,
where he’s come from,
where he’s headed.
That way, he’ll have strength
enough to answer.
Or, by then you’ll be
such good friends
you don’t care.
 

2