Naomi Shihab Nye

American writer

Naomi Shihab Nye (Arabic: نعومي شهاب ناي; born March 12, 1952) is a Palestinian American poet, editor, songwriter, and novelist.

Naomi Shihab Nye


Everything Comes Next (2022)Edit

"Slim Thoughts"Edit

  • why, out of all the talk, do you remember that thing?
  • Give up the annoying question, "How long does this have to be?" Just wonder-how long does it need to be? Then try to find out.
  • Each thing gives us something else...The more any of us writes, the more our words will "come to us." If we trust in the words and their own mysterious relationships with one another, they will help us find things out.
  • We feel uplifted, exhilarated. Writing regularly can help us feel that way too. It slows and eases us, calms us down. Having a focal point is generative. Consider the spaciousness of the sky over the water, which we often forget about as we scurry through our days. I love what the poet Marvin Bell has suggested about writing-Read something, then write something. Read something else, then write something else. It's all connected, it's always been connected. Let one activity inform the other. Streams of language exchanging their powers.
  • I do believe in overwriting, then cutting back. Physical fitness of the pen, page, and mind, interwoven. If you believe in revision you don't have to worry about perfection. Try not to worry about anything. It's impossible, of course, but try. I do think writing will help you live your life.

Interview (2019)Edit

  • I am moved by her (Janna Jihad Ayyad) as I have always been moved by the struggle of Palestinian people to maintain any kind of regular normal life under extremely harsh circumstances.
  • I feel very close to that part of each of us which remains young, idealistic, and curious.
  • When people tilt their heads just slightly to imagine another person's experience, the space inside the mind grows.

Voices in the Air: Poems for Listeners (2018)Edit

  • Voices as guides, lines and stanzas as rooms, sometimes a single word the furniture on which to sit...each day we could open the door, and enter, and be found. These days I wonder-was life always strange-just strange in different ways? Does speaking some of the strangeness help us survive it, even if we can't solve or change it?
  • Perhaps we have more voices in the air now-on TV, in our phones and computers and little saved videos-but are we able to hear them as well? Are these the voices we really need? Is our listening life-space deep enough? Can we tell ourselves when we need to walk away from chatter, turn it off entirely for half a day, or a full day, or a whole weekend, ease into a realm of something slower, but more tangible? Can we go outside and listen?
  • If you're an "I read before I go to sleep" sort of person, why not add a little more I-just-got-home-from-school-or-work reading? In the modern world, we deserve to wind down. Or perhaps some morning reading, to launch yourself? How long does it take to read a poem? Slowing to a more gracious pacing-trying not to hurry or feel overwhelmed-inch by inch-one thought at a time-can be a deeply helpful mantra. It's a gift we give our own minds.

Interview with On Being (2016)Edit

  • just today, some students I was talking to in a Skype class in Kuwait — how much I love the modern world, that we can do these things.
  • I think that is very important, not feeling separate from text — feeling your thoughts as text or the world as it passes through you as a kind of text; the story that you would be telling to yourself about the street even as you walk down it or as you drive down it; as you look out the window, the story you would be telling. It always seemed very much to me, as a child, that I was living in a poem — that my life was the poem.
  • I think I said this like 40 years ago in a poem — use a single word as an oar that could get you through the days, just by holding a word, thinking about it differently, and seeing how that word rubs against other words, how it interplays with other words. There’s a luxury in that kind of thinking about language and text, but it’s very basic, as well. It’s simple. It’s invisible. It doesn’t cost anything.
  • The minute you place yourself above, what does that do to others?
  • it’s mysterious how these power structures unfold, isn’t it, and how we’re willing to accept them and allow them to prevail without questioning them.
  • something I’ve started saying over the past few years that helped me think about it is — I have so many Jewish friends, both in the United States and other countries, who would agree with this — but the idea that there could not be a sort of alliance between big power countries like the United States and Israel/Palestine that was more equivalent: Why do you have to have only one friend in the region? That’s like the dark side of junior high. In junior high, you learned that you could probably have two friends that are not exactly alike, and you might survive, and in fact, you’d be a much more interesting person. Why couldn’t the United States have two friends? Why couldn’t they ask better questions?
  • There are just so many mysteries about people wanting to presume their pain has more of a reality than someone else’s pain. And I think all the holy persons of all backgrounds and faiths have always called upon us to empathize in a more profound way, to stretch our imaginations to what that other person might be experiencing. And it sounds so basic, but these days, when you listen to the loud voices, you wonder, what’s happened to that? What’s happened to the awareness that we don’t have to be vindictive and continue on in a cycle of revenge and violence?
  • That feeling of being connected to someone else, when you allow yourself to be very particular, is another mystery of writing.
  • You can sit down and write three sentences — how long does that take, three minutes, five minutes? — and be giving yourself a very rare gift of listening to yourself, just finding out, when you go back and look at what you wrote. And how many times we think, “Oh, I would never have remembered that if I hadn’t written it down — when and how did that even occur to me? I sort of like it, this week, and it could help me, and now I want to connect it to something else.”
  • People I read a lot to my son were people like Robert Bly and Lucille Clifton, Frank O’Hara for some reason, Chinese poems, Japanese poems.
  • I think many times the way immigrants — people look at immigrants with such a sense of diminishment, as if this person is less than I am because they’ve left their country. Well, I actually think they’re more than we are, because they’re braver. They’ve gone some other place. They have to operate in another language. How easy would that be? If I had to go to China today and start living in China and doing everything in Chinese, it would be very, very hard. So you think about the bravery of these people and the desperation with which they’re trying to find a realm of safety for their families and — just the basic safeties that we take for granted, every day we get up. And I don’t know; I don’t know how a world with so many resources and so many religious traditions and good hopes — how we can keep doing these things to one another in the world that create refugee populations. It just seems outrageous. Why is that happening so much?
  • As readers and writers, we find a certain home in books and language and literature — like I hear a Mary Oliver poem, and it’s as if I’ve been her neighbor, because I’ve read so many of her poems, even though I’ve never spent a day in her town.
  • “Cross That Line” is an important poem to me because I loved Paul Robeson so much as a child.

Interview with Al Jadid (1996)Edit

  • I always took writing as being a way of thinking.
  • Writing...helps us identify what makes the whole geography of our lives.
  • It has become very clear to me over the years that Americans, especially young Americans, need to be encouraged to listen to voices from elsewhere. Some of us grow up with the mistaken idea that ours is the only reading and writing culture, and that we are the only literary people in the world. Of course, the United Stated has one of the shortest literary histories in the world, so we need to be reminding children and students to be alert for voices from elsewhere
  • if you read the poems of someone somewhere you know a lot more about that country than you know if you just study its crops or weather conditions.
  • I don't understand how people can disconnect politics from daily life, because that's how politics count. We're daily life people and that's where politics become a reality to us.
  • Arab culture is full of great story tellers, and it is one of the favorite pastimes of Arab people. I think that there is a deep hunger in the human psyche for story and the nourishment it gives us. People don't live on one level chatter alone, rhetoric or just the conveyance of news. We need the threading and layering of a day that story gives us, and that's very much from the culture.
  • I would strongly suggest that bicultural families such as mine teach their children both languages from the beginning if they can.
  • Salma Khadra al-Jayusi has been instrumental in her role as a transmitter of Arabic literature.
  • Language is its own music.
  • I've always thought of song writing and poem writing as cousins.
  • Part of the role of the writer is to encourage other people to discover their voices.
  • I think people who work on translation projects think that they're somehow peace negotiators because the belief is that we'll never stop killing one another until we understand and see one another as human beings. I think that's true. That's why it is very important to me to receive responses to poems like that from Israeli or Jewish poets; they're even more important than responses from Arab poets. When I get responses from an Israeli Jewish poet saying "I'm listening, I'm sorry, I don't like this either," that matters to me a lot.

Quotes about Naomi Shihab NyeEdit

  • Naomi Shihab Nye, for her poems, sisterhood, and heart.
  • It’s pretty intriguing to follow Naomi Shihab Nye’s idea that most of us actually “think in poems,” whether we know it or not. What she commends as a simple practice of writing explains the surprising power of what I know best from a long life of journaling. The act of writing things down just helps. As she says, it can be a tool to survive in hard times, or to anchor our days, but also to get into a more gracious community with ourselves — or rather, with all of the selves that live on in each of us at any given moment: the “child self, your older self, your confused self, your self that makes a lot of mistakes.” Naomi Shihab Nye was long a self-professed “wandering poet.” Today she’s the Young People’s Poet Laureate of the Poetry Foundation, while also a professor of creative writing at Texas State University. And one poem she wrote, called “Kindness,” is held close by people around the world.

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