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    • Naomi Shihab Nye has won numerous awards for her poetry and prose on the Middle East. Her works include This Same Sky, A Maze Me: Poems for Girls, and The Turtle of Oman. (literary-arts.org)

Poet Naomi Shihab Nye to Speak at Assembly

Kristine Ahn '16
Naomi Shihab Nye, an award-winning Palestinian-American poet, writer, and educator, will visit Hopkins on April 25. In her poem “One Boy Told Me,” Nye wrote: “Music lives inside my legs. / It’s coming out when I talk.”
After growing up in St. Louis, Jerusalem, and San Antonio, Nye spent thirty years traveling the world to head writing workshops. With her mixed heritage, cross-cultural childhood, and numerous travels, she writes about people’s shared humanity.

Nye is the author and/or editor of more than thirty volumes, many of which are prize-winning poetry anthologies for young readers. Nye has received four Pushcart Prizes, the Jane Addams Children’s Book Ward, the Paterson Poetry Prize, the NSK Neustadt Prize for Children’s Literature, and many other awards and fellowships. Her works include 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East, You & Yours (a best-selling poetry book of 2006), This Same Sky (a collection of poems by 129 poets from 69 different countries), and A Maze Me: Poems for Girls.

Her work presents openness to different cultures and harmony of different perspectives, often touching on themes such as homeland, identity, and family. Through poems and stories about peace and heritage, Nye encourages her readers to develop compassion and empathy toward one another.

In addition to poems, Nye also publishes essays, short stories, and novels. Her latest novel, The Turtle of Oman, was chosen both a Best Book of 2014 by The Horn Book and a 2015 Notable Children’s Book by the American Library Association.

The Turtle of Oman tells the story of a young boy who is leaving his homeland Oman for Michigan. The novel explores the unique relationship between the boy and his grandfather throughout a series of adventures during the boy’s last week in Oman. The story illustrates the bittersweet feeling of goodbye, the wisdom that older generations pass on, and two colliding worlds.

Basing the novel’s main characters on her son and her late father, Nye’s works include personal glimpses of her life and family. With insightful observations of local life and seemingly small daily occurrences, Nye’s writing offers a new perspective to ordinary people and events.

Expressing her observations from her travels and memories of her childhood, Nye’s works also demonstrate a broad awareness of and sensitivity to culturally-based social issues. She speaks out for Arab-Americans, commenting on both terrorism and prejudice. Her collection of poems about the Middle East and her experiences as an Arab-American, 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East (2002), was designed to encourage communication and understanding between Americans and Arabs, and received praise for its timeliness after the World Trade Center attacks and reminder of the importance of family ties in other countries and universality of concerns about injustice and prejudice.

Head Librarian Faye Prendergast explained the selection of Nye as a speaker: “Ms. Nye was selected by the ad hoc “Poetry Committee” which is composed of Ms. Davis, Ms. Jacox, Mr. McCord, Mr. Sotelo and me. We felt she was a good choice because she brings a different cultural perspective to her work, and because she has many years’ experience working with young people and leading writing workshops. Ms. Nye is our sixth “Hopkins poet,” following Mark Doty, Jean Valentine, Louise Gluck, Billy Collins and Robert Pinsky. She will be the first to offer a writer’s workshop to our Daystar students, and we are very much looking forward to her visit.”

Clare Boyle, the Editor-in-Chief of Daystar, also expressed her excitement: “Poetry calls our attention to small things in the world and helps us see big things in new ways. Ms. Nye is different from other poets who’ve visited in that she often writes for children. Given this background, I think she’ll bring a sense of wonder that returns us to poetry’s purpose, getting us to look. April is National Poetry Month and Daystar is working on planning a stream of events, including more assembly readings and a coffee house for students to share writing and music. April 21 is Poem in Your Pocket Day, and Daystar will be giving out free baked goods and poems during middle and senior school lunch.”

In 2002, Nye told the publication Contemporary Authors: “I have always loved the gaps, the spaces between things, as much as the things. I love staring, pondering, mulling, puttering. I love the times when someone or something is late—there’s that rich possibility of noticing more, in the meantime… poetry calls us to pause. There is so much we overlook, while the abundance around us continues to shimmer, on its own.”
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