April 3-6, 2019
Naomi Shihab Nye - The Little Read Author
Thursday, April 4 @ 7 pm in Belk Centrum
Saturday, April 6 @ 12 pm in PE Monroe Auditorium
Naomi Shihab Nye writes for adults, children, and the children inside us all. This is Nye’s second visit to Lenoir-Rhyne. As the Poetry Foundation notes, Nye was born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1952. Her father was a Palestinian refugee and her mother an American of German and Swiss descent, and Nye spent her adolescence in both Jerusalem and San Antonio, Texas. She earned her BA from Trinity University in San Antonio.
Nye’s experience of both cultural difference and different cultures has influenced much of her work. Known for poetry that lends a fresh perspective to ordinary events, people, and objects, Nye has said that, for her, “the primary source of poetry has always been local life, random characters met on the streets, our own ancestry sifting down to us through small essential daily tasks.”
Nye continues to live and work in San Antonio, Texas. “My poems and stories often begin with the voices of our neighbors, mostly Mexican American, always inventive and surprising,” Nye wrote for Four Winds Press. “I never get tired of mixtures.” In her first full-length collection, Different Ways to Pray (1980), Nye explores the differences between, and shared experiences of, cultures from California to Texas, from South America to Mexico. In “Grandfather’s Heaven,” a child declares: “Grandma liked me even though my daddy was a Moslem.” As critics have observed, “with her acceptance of different ‘ways to pray’ is also Nye’s growing awareness that living in the world can sometimes be difficult.”
Nye’s next books include On the Edge of the Sky (1981) and Hugging the Jukebox (1982). The poems in Yellow Glove (1986) and The Red Suitcase (1994) present a perspective tempered by tragedy and sorrow in which Nye continues to explore the effect of on-going violence on everyday life in the Middle East. Fuel (1998) is perhaps Nye’s most acclaimed volume.
After the World Trade Center attacks in 2001, Nye became an active voice for Arab-Americans, speaking out against both terrorism and prejudice. The lack of understanding between Americans and Arabs led her to collect poems she had written which dealt with the Middle East and her experiences as an Arab-American into one volume. 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East (2002) received praise for the timeliness of its message. Nye’s next book, You and Yours (2005), continued to explore the Middle East and the possibilities of poetic response. Divided into two sections, the first deals with Nye’s personal experiences as a mother and traveler and intersperses Nye’s typical free-verse with prose poems. The book received the Isabel Gardner Poetry Award. Nye’s recent collections of poetry include Transfer (2011).
In addition to her poetry collections, Nye has produced fiction for children, poetry and song recordings, and poetry translations.
In the 95 poems of Nye’s most recent book, in Voices In The Air: Poems for Listeners, she reminds our “obsessively tuned in” culture of the magic, power and necessity of “quiet inspiration” and that the more “connected” we’ve become, the more disconnected we actually are: “With so much vying for our attention,” she asks, “how do we listen better?”
Inspired and guided by the voices that surround her (voices from the past, the present and even the peonies), Nye’s free verse tells of the wisdom, solace and beauty she has found and urges readers to join her, to listen with her, to create space to make sense of their experiences in an often difficult world. While Nye’s message is clear, it is never heavy-handed. The poems are loosely connected but just as powerful individually. Whether dealing with the mundane (a coffee cup) or the devastating (a girl shot by a stray bullet), Nye displays a palpable, unwavering empathy and hope for a better world. Although it’s intended for teenagers, “Voices in the Air” speaks to adults, too — any, that is, who are willing to slow down and listen.
As a children’s writer, Nye is acclaimed for her sensitivity and cultural awareness. Her book Sitti’s Secrets (1994) concerns an Arab-American child’s relationship with her sitti—Arabic for grandmother—who lives in a Palestinian village. Hazel Rochman, in Booklist, praised Nye for capturing the emotions of the “child who longs for a distant grandparent” as well as for writing a narrative that deals personally with Arabs and Arab Americans. In 1997 Nye published Habibi, her first young-adult novel. Readers meet Liyana Abboud, an Arab-American teen who moves with her family to her Palestinian father’s native country during the 1970s, only to discover that the violence in Jerusalem has not yet abated. Nye has since published poetry for young adults, including Come With Me: Poems for a Journey (2000) and A Maze Me: Poems for Girls (2005). Naomi Shihab Nye is the author of this year’s Little Read, The Turtle of Oman. The novel follows the story of Aref Al-Amri, a boy who doesn’t want to move with his family to Ann Arbor, MI from his hometown of Muscat, Oman. He refuses to pack and instead goes on a series of adventures with his grandfather that help Aref build up memories of home. The Turtle of Oman is widely recognized, and it won the 2015 Middle East Book Award for Youth Literature and was named a 2015 Notable Children's Book by the American Library Association. As part of The Little Read, Nye will talk to over 2000 fourth grade students from Alexander and Catawba County Schools as well as students from Newton-Conover Schools and the City of Hickory Schools. Every one of the students will receive a copy of Turtle of Oman thanks to the generous support of the school systems and the family of Ron and Sandra Deal who began The Little Read in 2006 to honor the life of their daughter Sarah Catherine Deal, a local elementary education reading specialist who loved children.
Other honors for Nye’s work include awards from the International Poetry Forum and the Texas Institute of Letters, and four Pushcart Prizes. She has been a Lannan Fellow, a Guggenheim Fellow, and a Witter Bynner Fellow, and received The Academy of American Poets' Lavan Award, selected by W. S. Merwin. She has been featured on two PBS poetry specials including The Language of Life with Bill Moyers and also appeared on NOW with Bill Moyers. She has been poetry editor at The Texas Observer for 20 years. She is also laureate of the 2013 NSK Neustadt Award for Children's Literature; and in 2017 the American Library Association presented her with the 2018 May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture Award.
Event Partner: Catawba Valley Interfaith Council