Naomi Shihab Nye is a poet, essayist, children’s writer, and distinguished anthologist (Almon 273). Naomi’s works “explore the ways heritage and history contribute to personal identity” (“Naomi Shihab Nye”). Her writings continually show a love for human diversity (Almon 273). Although Nye’s works have been influenced by her Palestinian-American background, she is neither Muslim nor fluent in Arabic (Almon 273). Nye’s works are inspired by her current home of San Antonio, Texas; her Palestinian background, and her life’s happenings of as a result of having previously lived in several different countries.
Naomi Shihab Nye was born on March 12, 1952, in St. Louis, Missouri, to Aziz, a journalist, and Miriam, a Montessori teacher (“Naomi Shihab Nye”). She completed elementary and middle school in St. Louis (Tanner). Her mother is American, and her father is Palestinian (Tanner). Her mother was raised Lutheran; upon their moving to the United States, her father seeked to become a Unity minister, and Nye attended Unity Sunday school (Almon 273). At age five, Nye encountered the works of the poet Carl Sandburg (“Naomi Shihab Nye”).
Her first poem, written when she was six, was about a visit to Chicago, and her first publication as a poet came when she seven, in a children’s magazine, Wee Wisdom (Almon 274). Throughout her early years, Nye continued publishing her works in publications such as Seventeen magazine (“Naomi Shihab Nye”). Her family moved to Jerusalem for a year when she was in high school, and this was where she met her father’s family for the first time (“Naomi Shihab Nye”). Her father wanted the family to move there so they could “become familiar with his homeland”, nd Naomi’s experiences in Jerusalem were the inspiration for her novel Habibi (Almon 273). The Six-Day War cut short their stay short, and they returned to the United States, settling in San Antonio, Texas, where Nye still lives (“Naomi Shihab Nye”). Nye attended Trinity University in San Antonio, living at home all four years. She continued writing and publishing throughout her college years (“Naomi Shihab Nye”).
Not until she was about to graduate did she realize that her school had programs in creative writing, though she had pursued poetry on her own for years. Almon 273-274). She earned her B. A. in English and world religions in 1974 (Tanner). After graduating, Nye found work in the Texas Writers in the Schools project (“Naomi Shihab Nye”). Meanwhile, she was also publishing chapbooks and collections of poetry (“Naomi Shihab Nye”). She published her first chapbook, Tattooed Feet, in 1977; and a second chapbook, Eye-to-Eye, the next year (Almon 274). In 1978, she married Michael Nye, a San Antonio lawyer and photographer (Almon 274).
She has won the Voertman Poetry Prize by the Texas Institute of Letters twice, in 1980 for Different Ways to Pray and in 1982 for Hugging the Jukebox (Tanner). Their son, Madison Cloudfeather Nye, was born in 1986 (Almon 274). Nye has said that for her, the main source of poetry has always been local life, random characters met on the streets, and ancestry played out in essential daily tasks (Tanner). She explores the ways heritage and history contribute to personal identity (“Naomi Shibab Nye”). Major themes found in Nye’s works are quiet, intimate, and contemplative (Tanner).
Nye observes the matter of living and the flow among all the world’s inhabitants (“Naomi Shibab Nye”). Naomi Shihab Nye’s first children’s book, Sitti’s Secrets (1994), was dedicated to her grandmother, Sitti Khadra Shihab Idais Al-Zer of Palestine (Almon 278). The narrator, a child named Mona, recalls how her and her sitti invented their own sign language to break the English-Arabic language barrier. (“Nye, Naomi Shihab 1952-. ” 2685). Mona observes her grandmother practice the daily routine of making bread and watching the men pick lentils (“Naomi Shihab Nye. 2685).
They learn to communicate without speaking, sharing sights, smells and activities such as cooking (Almon 278). When Mona comes back to her home in the United States, she maintains her bond with Sitti through her imagination (“Nye, Naomi Shihab 1952-. ” 2685). The child then writes a letter to the President, asking him for peace and letting him know that she believes he would like her sitti a lot if he met her (“Nye, Naomi Shihab 1952-. ” 2685). The story received a Jane Addams Children’s Book Award from the Cooperative Children’s Book Center (Almon 278).
In Nye’s 1997 young adult novel, Habibi, she tells a story of a young girl named Liyana Abboud who moves from St. Louis to Palestine, where she meets her Palestinian relatives and becomes close to her grandmother (Almon 279). When in Jerusalem, the Abbouds discover that the violence in Jerusalem has not yet lessened; and face the problems of racial prejudice and suspicion, cultural differences between North America and the Middle East, and the daily conflict between Arabs and Jews (“Naomi Shibab Nye”).
Habibi contains elements that are likely to be in a teenage novel, like agitation over a first kiss, her relationship with her younger brother, a secret romance, and hope (Almon 279). This novel was based on Nye’s own experiences when was a fourteen year old in lerusalem (Almon 279). Nye tries to balance realism and the unpleasant facts of history with the kind of idealistic hope that spreads throughout much of her work (Almon 279). Critics say that Habibi is “soulstirring”, it gives the readers the “sweet richness of a Mediterranean dessert”, and it leaves readers pondering at the end of the book (“Naomi Shibab Nye”).
Habibi was Nye’s first young-adult novel which received many awards, some of which are the Jane Adams Children’s Book Award, Judy Lopez Memorial Award for children’s Literature, and Texas Institute of Letters Best Book for Young People (“Naomi Shibab Nye”). 19 Varieties of Gazelle, a collection of her previously published poems about the Middle East, was a National Book Awards finalist in Young People’s Literature for 2002 (Almon 286). On September 11, 2001, Nye was shocked by the terrorist attacks; but she was also appalled by the discrimination shown towards Arab Americans (Almon 285).
In 19 Varieties of Gazelle, she provides a view into the lives of the many innocent people in the Middle East in a post-9/11 world (“Nye, Naomi Shihab 1952-. ” 2686). The title poem uses her experiences at a wildlife sanctuary in Bahrain to “suggest that the beauty of natural beings offers consolation to human beings distressed by history, headlines, and human voices” (Almon 286). Not all poems in this collection are about the Middle Eastern conflict; a poe m that has been deemed as one of the most powerful is “Rock,” which describes at the effects of an earthquake in Iran (Almon 286).
Some of these poems also celebrate living in the Middle East or feature the daily lives of people in the region (Almon 287). This time in history, marred by war, discrimination, and violence, desperately needs a writer like Naomi Shihab Nye. It is undeniable that her writings have fostered feelings of acceptance and togetherness among all the human race for the many people who read them. Her way of using eloquent written word as a way of bringing about peace in the world is not a gift bestowed upon many others.