Naomi Shihab Nye Enlightens in VOICES Reading

This year’s VOICES reading series continued with award-winning artist Naomi Shihab Nye who read a plethora of pieces relating to Middle-Eastern culture as a part of the ten-year commemoration of September 11.

Shihab Nye presented her work before a crowd in the Daugherty-Palmer Commons (DPC) on Thursday, Sept. 29, much of which drew from her Palestinian-American heritage and travel experiences.

She began with a series of nostalgic poems about the late Lucille Clifton, in which she said “Lucille’s memory, you still carrying that?” Each poem carried an echo of fondness and sadness that touched the audience. She spoke of the importance of comforting one another through hardship, especially now, in the post-9/11 era.

Shihab Nye spoke with ease, her infectious humor leaving a smile on the audience’s faces as she shared her poetry as if it were a story shared with close friends. She shared a humor piece of prose on her experience helping a woman in an airport who only spoke Arabic, and did not understand that her plane had been delayed. Her compassion and humor was evident as she recalled the event, speaking with her hands and laughing along with the audience.

She also mentioned the importance of taking writing workshops to grow as a writer, and shared many of her rough drafts of poetry, an act that she referred to as “brave” of her.

In one of the most memorable moments of her reading, Shihab Nye shared the story of her father, who she described as a “calm and gentle person” who immigrated to the United States when he was 22 and worked as a journalist.

“He never believed there was only one way of looking at any story,” she said. “Sometimes when people were a little bit racist, he would just take a calming breath and say, ‘I think you could use a little bit more information.’”

In her poem “Knowing” she recounted the story of a letter her father received from Eleanor Roosevelt in 1953, that said, “No, I do not think Arab refugees should be permitted to return to their homes in Israel.”

She delivered her poetry and prose with light humor, regardless the gravity of the topic. Shihab Nye is an award-winning author and editor of more than 25 volumes, and has received the National Book Award and the 2008 Arab American Book Award in the Children’s/Young Adult category.

“The thing that I am most impressed by is just how gentle and caring Naomi is with her students” Professor Jeffery Coleman said. “Her poems are seemingly effortless as is her manner, compassion, and desire for reconciliation. You get the sense that this is a woman who is most concerned with what binds us, what combines us, what brings us together.”

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