A letter from Lylla Younes (Monteguma, New Mexico):
Dear Mrs. Nye,
When I saw your name on the list of Chancellors who may receive letters, I called my mother right away. We are both great fans of not only your poetry, but also what you stand for as an Arab-American author. My mother is Lebanese, and my father is Syrian. I still remember the peace and relief I felt after reading your letter, "To Any Would-Be Terrorists." For the first time, I felt that someone understood the difficulties of growing up in this country with the weight of the word "terrorist" hanging over their head in and out of the classroom. You put into words what I had never been able to adequately articulate. That is the power of writing. These are distressing times for my family. We live under the dull eyes of news reporters spouting off statistics in indifferent monotones—but I'm sure you already know all about that. As for me, I am an aspiring writer and I really believe that poetry can make a difference in the world. I've seen this first hand. Last summer, I got a scholarship to attend an international boarding school in New Mexico—The United World College of the American West. Here at school, we have 200 students living and studying together for 2 years. We are all from over 90 countries. The school was founded as part of a post WWII peace movement. The idea is to have a diverse group of students study together to promote a green peaceful and sustainable future. When I first arrived, I was very wary of my environment; that is, until I went to the first writing club meeting, "Exceeding the Tweed Limit." At first I could feel the tension in the room, but after the free write when we all began to share what we'd written, everyone opened up. Here we had Palestinians and Israelis sitting at the same table, reading poetry to each other—it was wonderful. That's when I discovered the true power of poetry. I feel that is in some way my duty to use this power and to share it with others. It's sort of like your poem "Famous—" my goal is not to become a renowned, published author. I want to be famous in that I never forget about what I can do with writing and how I, in my own small way, can give back to the world.
Thank you for your time and for your beautiful poetry.
Class of 2014
Naomi Shihab Nye responds:
March 25, 2013
Dear Lylla Younes,
I am so touched by your message.
Everything you say – chimes with what I believe and have believed about writing since I was a teen. (By the way, your campus in New Mexico is a place we passed on a driving trip a few years ago – we felt curious about it!) Glad you are there – it sounds amazing. If more people of all backgrounds sat at tables together and wrote and read and listened with respect – well, the world would probably be more harmonious, yes. May your connections and "the true power of poetry" continue! Please convey my respects to your family and please continue to write about the "distressing times" we all share and worry over. May you find relief, understanding and ways to express the humanity which belongs to all of us. Do you have Hayan Charara's anthology Inclinded to Speak? I think you'd feel at home in many of its poems.
With warmest regards and gratitude for YOUR CLEAR STRONG VOICE –
Naomi Shihab Nye