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hybridity will be determined by specific historical formation and cultural repertoires of enunciation n her poetry and novels, Arab American writer Naomi Shihab Nye explores the boundaries and intricacies of language and place as the tethers that ultimately connect us all. Her work is unique in its ability to capture the human spirit and appeal to an audience of all ages. Nye agreed to talk toWLT about writing and heritage. Kate Long: When I heard you speak at the 2008 Sigma Tau Delta Conference in Louisville, Kentucky, you said, "Always carry a plant; always stay rooted to somewhere." You have lived in the Middle East and traveled extensively. What is your plant? To what do you stay rooted? Naomi Shihab Nye: The stem of my plant is a pencil, and the flowers and leaves are the words that emerge. No matter what one is living through, or where one finds oneself, words help us navigate the place, scene, experience. W. S. Merwin speaks about writing on the backs of envelopes and scrap paper--lessens the pressure. Sometimes just scribble a phrase, then carry it inside all day--sometimes nothing more than a scrap of someone else's conversation, an announcement heard in an airport, a remembered phrase--it doesn't have to be much. Writers are the original frugal artists, our toolbox truly inexpensive. Air? Fading signs on brick buildings? That broken pencil that looks like a pale bone of a bleached skeleton? I'm packed--let's go. [ILLUSTRATION OMITTED] KL: Doors, walls, and windows are recurring images in your poetry and fiction. After having lived in so many places, it is very interesting that you choose to communicate through "home" imagery. What is the significance of home to you? And where or what do you consider to be home? NSN: I have really only lived three places--St. Louis, Jerusalem, San Antonio--not many considering the migratory lives of so many in this world. San Antonio feels most like home as I have lived here the longest. But everywhere can be home the moment you unpack, make a tiny space that feels agreeable. The moment you walk outside, take a deep breath, listen to the music of the language wherever you are, feel the pace and cadence. Even in these light-traveling days (carry-on only please!) I always pack a tiny cloth to spread out on the desk or table wherever I find myself. Make a space that feels comforting. It's sad to think how "military actions" upset the homes of others without enough consideration--what happened in Gaza in December 2008-January 2009, for example-such an outrageously oversized "response" to ongoing conflict. Devastating destruction of homes, schools, nonmilitary targets, hundreds of civilians--how cruel must human beings become to allow themselves to commit such acts and feel righteous about it? One forfeits humanity, I would think. One forgets what home ever felt like anywhere. How much harder or less expensive would it be to say, "Look, we've all been cruel to one another and made horrible mistakes. What do you need to feel safe? What do we need? How can we negotiate?"
but accepts them and draws strength and larger focus from what they have given him. NSN: Early on in life.. many of us discover there are so many kinds of language. who never stopped describing what he saw as the terribly unfair situation in his homeland.. 79).. My father loved the United States but grieved over many of its international actions. I was hoping you could talk a little about language-its power. Texas.My father's entire life was shadowed by grief over loss of his home in Palestine in 1948. or ways of using language--but those who become writers inevitably spend a certain kind of nourishing time with it that other people sometimes find hard to imagine. and a writer's obligation to nurture or renew it. Recent years saw the deaths of Edward Said and Mahmoud Darwish. The woman at the end of "Half-and-Half" is making a soup. Does the Land Remember Me? A Memoir of Palestine (see WLT. urging others to read their work." and many of your poems discuss language barriers. find some way to honor and share the flavors. or lack thereof. are as intriguing and worth knowing as the Iraqi-Iranian refugee community of Mandaeans recently settled in an apartment complex on the north side of San Antonio. quoting them. Can you talk a little about being deeply connected to both halves of yourself? NSN: We're all so many parts. We are all fourths and eighths and sixteenths of all sorts of things. As my introduction to the Mexican anthology The Tree Is Older Than You Are states. after years of refugee status in Syria. he looked for real stories to describe situations often masked by platitudes--what Arabs call "empty language. KL: You've talked a bit about the words and language of a place. But I have tried to mention theirs again and again in some of my writings. supported mightily by the U. March 2008.S." That's the important part--that we use what we have. I do not agree with Americans who suggest that being an ethnic American diminishes this country's dignity or significance. that blood keep growing and growing as we live. KL: "Half-and-Half" is the title of one of your poems and a phrase you use to discuss having two inheritances. The second-generation Czech Americans holding their annual Fourth of July celebration in the town of Shiner. two eloquent speakers on the realities of Palestine--in their absence one can only keep turning to their voices. two cultures. as well as your own and your father's search for the right way to express or describe situations. eighty miles away. staring at words? Rearranging words? Crossing out and putting words together? Where is the fun? . government. Millions of refugees worldwide have known a similar grief." I urge anyone interested in Palestine/Israel to read my father's last book. "leaving nothing out. issues of identity and empathy. "I suggest that blood be bigger than what we're born with. How could we be so happy just staying quiet. became a big part of my awareness. A newspaper journalist. President Obama is a perfect iconic figure in this moment--he doesn't stress the halves. I never have. You also mentioned "empty language. It was published only months before he died. otherwise how will we become true citizens of the world?" Because I had an expressive Palestinian father (Aziz Shihab). where it fails.
and has astonishing relevance for our current times. When he told and wrote his own stories. we're writers. Order at least five to ten of the books and you'll be enriched for years. read at least two Stafford poems daily and your life will be enlarged and deeply comforted. In a world of clutter. For anyone interested in the intimate workings of a writer's mind. What is it about his work that speaks to you? NSN: The poems of William Stafford are ripe with humanity. Don't miss Every War Has Two Losers: William Stafford on Peace and War. It's hard to say how he did what he did. Secrets are fuel. edited by Kim Stafford. This discovery cannot be exhausted--once one engages in writing regularly. Also. of politics. at sixteen. but he was always asking questions about news stories: What wasn't told? What peculiar emphasis? What side of this story didn't we see? He went (gently) wild when a headline didn't match a text. of conversational propriety--language that attempts to convince--versus language that tries to describe. and I feel it even more today. I still read in it often. interrupting. My dad's reportorial format became his bread-and-butter work. KL: In your poem "Valentine for Ernest Mann." It's our own job to claim a personal. No one else can do it for us. when he played that blur of voices back to us. which came into print years after Bill died. Incredible what we get used to. I was attracted to exaggeration as a child as it improved many tales. I've run into people who took classes with me where we used one of the books as a text. a process one develops--then certain magical. . We're not liars.William Stafford described writing as a habit.unforeseeable things begin to occur because of the process itself. the more possibilities we find in language. hope-as rich and radiant as life on this planet is--as understated and generous as he was in real life. He's a poet to live with as long as we live. veering off rather randomly--versus the clean text of a picture book or poem. For tonic. language that tries to open something up and look at it-is a lot to think about." you tell a secret. create images and connections. and I have read that he is your favorite poet. You can read one of his poems for years and keep finding new elements in it. but he was a master at it. They're strangely energizing. Being locked in a closet for twenty minutes was not nearly as exciting as being locked in for hours. The mind must be very elastic indeed. Too much chatter crisscrossing. I noticed his delight in changing and improving them--something I also enjoy. and they say. giving it up is highly unlikely. and a secret plays a big role in the beginning of your novel Habibi. What do you think it is about secrets--keeping them. say. telling them. It includes previously unpublished journal entries. ongoing relationship with language. it made us laugh. and how they function? NSN: I think we all need more of them. Stafford is clarity--again and again. It's not so much that one had "talent" to begin with. The more we write. "That book hasn't hit the shelf yet. When our son was little he secretly taped a dinner party at our home. to stay in touch with readings of his work and writing about his work. look up the lovely group Friends of William Stafford and feel free to join it. one discovered a process and stuck with it. Later. subtlety. rather. after so many years of reading him. possibility. I strongly suggest the great series of books from the University of Michigan Press called Poets on Poetry. I felt this the first time I read his poems in a high school textbook. KL: You referenced William Stafford. Just meditating on the language of persuasive marketing.
Can you talk a little bit about writing for younger age groups--what is the appeal and why is it important? NSN: A marvelous editor named Virginia Duncan (editor in chief of Greenwillow Books) found me about eighteen years ago and asked if I had ever thought of writing for young readers. and where I write from.. but many of your titles (especially those we've noted) can be found in the teen or children's sections of libraries or bookstores. That sounds about right. bears a golden sheen. From my poem "Secrets" in a collection for children. has been used as a text in university classrooms as well as fifth-grade classrooms. and young people respond to many of my poems written "for adults. wonderfully illustrated by Dan Yaccarino: One suitcase only for secrets-tucked in the pouch pocket.. the border is blurred. That's what I write to. I said. one light and liquid suitcase. Always. Hopefully we still love poems we loved as children. She has been a tremendously encouraging supporter of my work." thank goodness. This Same Sky. Come with Me (2000). one glittering suitcase filled with tiny unspoken tales. pressed in the corners. hopefully. KL: You write for a wide variety of readers. There is a field inside our bodies that has no age attached to it but. the first of eight poetry anthologies I edited and she published. Because a secret is a ticket and without it the trip would be too lonely. A calm. And I will carry it to the other side of the ocean.Deciding what to tell when--poetry leans toward hinting and suggestiveness without "explaining." I think poetry manifests somewhat timelessly. Sure. appeal to older readers. Because its cargo is more precious than socks or pajamas. KL: Do you have any new books or publications coming out that we should be looking for in the near future? . in a certain light. A quietude. I will carry it so no one knows what I hold. really--a good poem for young readers may also. and there you have it. I don't think of there being separate audiences.
And. and wake up our minds once again. and a children's book set in the intriguing country of Oman. Nye earned a bachelor's degree in English and world religions at Trinity University. . Currently. which includes poems from sixty-eight countries and is still in print after seventeen years.NSN: My eighth anthology. Poet and novelist Naomi Shihab Nye grew up in St. Asia. as ever. I am also working on poems relating to the life and death of my very beloved dad. A Maze Me. bits and pieces of this and that--my favorite task as a writer--the surprises that find us often. and conduct writing workshops. is called Time You Let Me In: 25 Poets Under 25. including 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East. as these are terrific young poets who have great writing lives ahead of them. Aziz Shihab. Kate Long recently graduated from Oklahoma Christian University with a bachelor's degree in English and minors in international studies and Spanish. You and Yours. After compiling This Same Sky. Louis and Jerusalem. She currently works as a copyeditor for Tate Publishing and is an intern at World Literature Today. she edited seven more poetry anthologies. she lives in San Antonio and travels to read. In efforts to encourage peace through the arts. speak. whenever we're working or wandering. Red Suitcase. coming out in spring 2010. Honeybee. Nye has traveled to the Middle East. She has published many books of poetry. and Words under the Words. and Europe on multiple occasions. I hope many people look for it.
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