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According to Stuart hall, cultural identity is always hybrid but he also insists that the precise form of this

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?"

My father's entire life was shadowed by grief over loss of his home in Palestine in 1948. Millions of refugees worldwide have known a similar grief. I never have. But I have tried to mention theirs again and again in some of my writings. KL: "Half-and-Half" is the title of one of your poems and a phrase you use to discuss having two inheritances, two cultures. Can you talk a little about being deeply connected to both halves of yourself? NSN: We're all so many parts. The woman at the end of "Half-and-Half" is making a soup, "leaving nothing out." That's the important part--that we use what we have, find some way to honor and share the flavors. As my introduction to the Mexican anthology The Tree Is Older Than You Are states, "I suggest that blood be bigger than what we're born with, that blood keep growing and growing as we live; otherwise how will we become true citizens of the world?" Because I had an expressive Palestinian father (Aziz Shihab), who never stopped describing what he saw as the terribly unfair situation in his homeland, supported mightily by the U.S. government, issues of identity and empathy, or lack thereof, became a big part of my awareness. My father loved the United States but grieved over many of its international actions. A newspaper journalist, he looked for real stories to describe situations often masked by platitudes--what Arabs call "empty language." I urge anyone interested in Palestine/Israel to read my father's last book, Does the Land Remember Me? A Memoir of Palestine (see WLT, March 2008, 79). It was published only months before he died. Recent years saw the deaths of Edward Said and Mahmoud Darwish, two eloquent speakers on the realities of Palestine--in their absence one can only keep turning to their voices, quoting them, urging others to read their work.... I do not agree with Americans who suggest that being an ethnic American diminishes this country's dignity or significance. The second-generation Czech Americans holding their annual Fourth of July celebration in the town of Shiner, Texas, eighty miles away, 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, after years of refugee status in Syria. We are all fourths and eighths and sixteenths of all sorts of things. President Obama is a perfect iconic figure in this moment--he doesn't stress the halves, but accepts them and draws strength and larger focus from what they have given him. KL: You've talked a bit about the words and language of a place, as well as your own and your father's search for the right way to express or describe situations. You also mentioned "empty language," and many of your poems discuss language barriers. I was hoping you could talk a little about language-its power, where it fails, and a writer's obligation to nurture or renew it. NSN: Early on in life, many of us discover there are so many kinds of language, 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. How could we be so happy just staying quiet, staring at words? Rearranging words? Crossing out and putting words together? Where is the fun?

William Stafford described writing as a habit, a process one develops--then certain magical,unforeseeable things begin to occur because of the process itself. It's not so much that one had "talent" to begin with; rather, one discovered a process and stuck with it. The more we write, the more possibilities we find in language. This discovery cannot be exhausted--once one engages in writing regularly, giving it up is highly unlikely. When our son was little he secretly taped a dinner party at our home. Later, when he played that blur of voices back to us, it made us laugh. Too much chatter crisscrossing, interrupting, veering off rather randomly--versus the clean text of a picture book or poem, say. Incredible what we get used to. The mind must be very elastic indeed. Just meditating on the language of persuasive marketing, of politics, of conversational propriety--language that attempts to convince--versus language that tries to describe, create images and connections, language that tries to open something up and look at it-is a lot to think about. My dad's reportorial format became his bread-and-butter work, 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. When he told and wrote his own stories, I noticed his delight in changing and improving them--something I also enjoy. We're not liars, we're writers. I was attracted to exaggeration as a child as it improved many tales. Being locked in a closet for twenty minutes was not nearly as exciting as being locked in for hours. For anyone interested in the intimate workings of a writer's mind, I strongly suggest the great series of books from the University of Michigan Press called Poets on Poetry. Order at least five to ten of the books and you'll be enriched for years. I've run into people who took classes with me where we used one of the books as a text, and they say, "That book hasn't hit the shelf yet; I still read in it often." It's our own job to claim a personal, ongoing relationship with language. No one else can do it for us. KL: You referenced William Stafford, and I have read that he is your favorite poet. What is it about his work that speaks to you? NSN: The poems of William Stafford are ripe with humanity, subtlety, possibility, hope-as rich and radiant as life on this planet is--as understated and generous as he was in real life. I felt this the first time I read his poems in a high school textbook, at sixteen, and I feel it even more today, after so many years of reading him. He's a poet to live with as long as we live. For tonic, read at least two Stafford poems daily and your life will be enlarged and deeply comforted. It's hard to say how he did what he did, but he was a master at it. In a world of clutter, Stafford is clarity--again and again. You can read one of his poems for years and keep finding new elements in it. Don't miss Every War Has Two Losers: William Stafford on Peace and War, edited by Kim Stafford, which came into print years after Bill died. It includes previously unpublished journal entries, and has astonishing relevance for our current times. Also, look up the lovely group Friends of William Stafford and feel free to join it, to stay in touch with readings of his work and writing about his work. KL: In your poem "Valentine for Ernest Mann," you tell a secret, and a secret plays a big role in the beginning of your novel Habibi. What do you think it is about secrets--keeping them, telling them, and how they function? NSN: I think we all need more of them. Secrets are fuel. They're strangely energizing.

Deciding what to tell when--poetry leans toward hinting and suggestiveness without "explaining," thank goodness. From my poem "Secrets" in a collection for children, Come with Me (2000), wonderfully illustrated by Dan Yaccarino: One suitcase only for secrets-tucked in the pouch pocket, pressed in the corners, one light and liquid suitcase, one glittering suitcase filled with tiny unspoken tales. And I will carry it to the other side of the ocean. I will carry it so no one knows what I hold. Because its cargo is more precious than socks or pajamas. Because a secret is a ticket and without it the trip would be too lonely.

KL: You write for a wide variety of readers, but many of your titles (especially those we've noted) can be found in the teen or children's sections of libraries or bookstores. 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. Sure, I said. Always. She has been a tremendously encouraging supporter of my work.., and there you have it. This Same Sky, the first of eight poetry anthologies I edited and she published, has been used as a text in university classrooms as well as fifth-grade classrooms. That sounds about right. I don't think of there being separate audiences, really--a good poem for young readers may also, hopefully, appeal to older readers, and young people respond to many of my poems written "for adults." I think poetry manifests somewhat timelessly; the border is blurred. Hopefully we still love poems we loved as children. There is a field inside our bodies that has no age attached to it but, in a certain light, bears a golden sheen. A quietude. A calm. That's what I write to, and where I write from. KL: Do you have any new books or publications coming out that we should be looking for in the near future?

NSN: My eighth anthology, coming out in spring 2010, is called Time You Let Me In: 25 Poets Under 25. I hope many people look for it, as these are terrific young poets who have great writing lives ahead of them. I am also working on poems relating to the life and death of my very beloved dad, Aziz Shihab, and a children's book set in the intriguing country of Oman. And, as ever, bits and pieces of this and that--my favorite task as a writer--the surprises that find us often, whenever we're working or wandering, and wake up our minds once again. Poet and novelist Naomi Shihab Nye grew up in St. Louis and Jerusalem. She has published many books of poetry, including 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East, Red Suitcase, You and Yours, A Maze Me, Honeybee, and Words under the Words. After compiling This Same Sky, which includes poems from sixty-eight countries and is still in print after seventeen years, she edited seven more poetry anthologies. Nye earned a bachelor's degree in English and world religions at Trinity University. In efforts to encourage peace through the arts, Nye has traveled to the Middle East, Asia, and Europe on multiple occasions. Currently, she lives in San Antonio and travels to read, speak, and conduct writing workshops. Kate Long recently graduated from Oklahoma Christian University with a bachelor's degree in English and minors in international studies and Spanish. She currently works as a copyeditor for Tate Publishing and is an intern at World Literature Today.