About this poet

Naomi Shihab Nye was born on March 12, 1952, in St. Louis, Missouri, to a Palestinian father and an American mother. During her high school years, she lived in Ramallah in Palestine, the Old City in Jerusalem, and San Antonio, Texas, where she later received her BA in English and world religions from Trinity University.

Nye is the author of numerous books of poems, including Transfer (BOA Editions, 2011); You and Yours (BOA Editions, 2005), which received the Isabella Gardner Poetry Award; 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East (Greenwillow Books, 2002), a collection of new and selected poems about the Middle East; Fuel (BOA Editions, 1998); Red Suitcase (BOA Editions, 1994); and Hugging the Jukebox (Far Corner Books, 1982).

She is also the author of several books of poetry and fiction for children, including Habibi (Simon Pulse, 1997), for which she received the Jane Addams Children's Book award in 1998.

Nye gives voice to her experience as an Arab-American through poems about heritage and peace that overflow with a humanitarian spirit. About her work, the poet William Stafford has said, "her poems combine transcendent liveliness and sparkle along with warmth and human insight. She is a champion of the literature of encouragement and heart. Reading her work enhances life."

Her poems and short stories have appeared in various journals and reviews throughout North America, Europe, and the Middle and Far East. She has traveled to the Middle East and Asia for the United States Information Agency three times, promoting international goodwill through the arts.

Nye’s honors include awards from the International Poetry Forum and the Texas Institute of Letters, the Carity Randall Prize, and four Pushcart Prizes. She has been a Lannan Fellow, a Guggenheim Fellow, and a Witter Bynner Fellow. In 1988, she received The Academy of American Poets' Lavan Award, selected by W. S. Merwin.

She was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2009. She currently lives in San Antonio, Texas.


Selected Bibliography

Transfer (BOA Editions, 2011)
You and Yours (BOA Editions, 2005)
19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East (Greenwillow Books, 2002)
Fuel (BOA Editions, 1998)
Red Suitcase (BOA Editions, 1994)
Hugging the Jukebox (Far Corner Books, 1982)

Wedding Cake

Naomi Shihab Nye, 1952
Once on a plane
a woman asked me to hold her baby
and disappeared.
I figured it was safe,
our being on a plane and all.
How far could she go?
She returned one hour later,
having changed her clothes
and washed her hair.
I didn't recognize her.
By this time the baby
and I had examined
each other's necks.
We had cried a little.
I had a silver bracelet
and a watch.
Gold studs glittered
in the baby's ears.
She wore a tiny white dress
leafed with layers
like a wedding cake.
I did not want
to give her back.
The baby's curls coiled tightly
against her scalp,
another alphabet.
I read new new new.
My mother gets tired.
I'll chew your hand.
The baby left my skirt crumpled,
my lap aching.
Now I'm her secret guardian,
the little nub of dream
that rises slightly
but won't come clear.
As she grows,
as she feels ill at ease,
I'll bob my knee.
What will she forget?
Whom will she marry?
He'd better check with me.
I'll say once she flew
dressed like a cake
between two doilies of cloud.
She could slip the card into a pocket,
pull it out.
Already she knew the small finger
was funnier than the whole arm.

Naomi Shihab Nye, "The Wedding Cake" from Fuel. Copyright © 1998 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Reprinted with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of BOA Editions, Ltd., boaeditions.org.

Naomi Shihab Nye, "The Wedding Cake" from Fuel. Copyright © 1998 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Reprinted with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of BOA Editions, Ltd., boaeditions.org.

Naomi Shihab Nye

Naomi Shihab Nye

Naomi Shihab Nye gives voice to her experience as an Arab-American through poems about heritage and peace that overflow with a humanitarian spirit.

by this poet

poem
The man with laughing eyes stopped smiling
to say, “Until you speak Arabic,
you will not understand pain.”

Something to do with the back of the head, 
an Arab carries sorrow in the back of the head,
that only language cracks, the thrum of stones

weeping, grating hinge on an old metal gate. 
“Once you know,” he
poem
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
poem
Letters swallow themselves in seconds.   
Notes friends tied to the doorknob,   
transparent scarlet paper,
sizzle like moth wings,
marry the air.

So much of any year is flammable,   
lists of vegetables, partial poems.   
Orange swirling flame of days,   
so little is a stone.

Where there was something and