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Recorded at the Chancellors' Reading, Poets Forum 2015. NYU Skirball Center. New York City.

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, judged by W. S. Merwin.

She served as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 2010 to 2015. 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)

To Jamyla Bolden of Ferguson, Missouri

Fifty years before you did your homework in Ferguson
we did our homework in Ferguson, thinking life was fair.
If we didn’t do our homework we might get a U—Unsatisfactory.
Your dad says you didn’t even get to see the rest of the world yet.
I’ve seen too much of the world and don’t know
how to absorb this—a girl shot through a wall—U! U! U!
I’d give you some of my years if I could—you should not
have died that night—there was absolutely no reason
for you to die. I’d like to be standing in a sprinkler with you,
the way we used to do, kids before air conditioning,
safe with our friends in the drenching of cool,
safe with our shrieks and summer shorts and happy hair,
where can we go without thinking of you now?
Did you know there was a time Ferguson was all a farm?
It fed St. Louis…giant meadows of corn, sweet potatoes,
laden blackberry bushes, perfect tomatoes in crates,
and everything was shovels and hoes, and each life,
even the little tendril of a vine, mattered,
and you did your homework and got an S for Satisfactory,
Super, instead of the S of Sorrow now stamped on our hands.

Copyright © 2016 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Used with permission of the author. 

Copyright © 2016 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Used with 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

The man with laughing eyes stopped smiling
to say, “Until you speak Arabic,
you will not understand pain.”

Something to do with the back of the head, 
an Arab carries sorrow in the back of the head,
that only language cracks, the thrum of stones

weeping, grating
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
We will call you "Agua" like the rivers and cool jugs.
We will persuade the clouds to nestle around your neck
so you may sleep late.
We would be happy if you slept forever.
We will tend the slopes we plant, singing the songs
our grandfathers taught us before we inherited their fear.
We will try not to argue