Naomi Shihab Nye

Portrait Naomi Shihab Nye
© Hartwig Klappert

Naomi Shihab Nye, the daughter of a Palestinian father and American mother, was born in 1952 in St. Louis, Missouri. Her father and his family had gone into exile four years previously as a result of having lost their home in Jerusalem during the founding of the state of Israel. Naomi and her family lived outside Jerusalem from 1966 to 1967, but when war broke out they moved to San Antonio, Texas. It was here that Naomi Shihab Nye completed her B.A. in English and world religions at Trinity University in 1974.

The author describes herself as an »itinerant poet«, and has spent thirty-five years travelling in Asia, Europe, North and South America, Central and South Africa, and the Middle East. In workshops around the world she discusses the writing of imaginative observations based on real life with young people and adults. Her work, which consists of thirty published titles, includes prizewinning works of prose, short stories, essays, columns and above all poetry, has been characterised since her début (»Different Ways to Pray«, 1980) by its use of specific leitmotifs: her Palestinian background, her life as an Arab-American in the USA, and impressions gathered during her years of travelling in search of identity, cultural diversity, and local subcultures. The poet, William Stafford, appraised Naomi Shihab Nye’s literary work in the following way: »In the current literary scene, one of the most heartening influences is the work of Naomi Shihab Nye. 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.« Aside from publishing her own work, which illuminates apparently familiar places, people, and events from unexpected angles, often using comic elements, Naomi Shihab Nye has also published poetry anthologies with works by established and little known writers, including many fromthe Arabic-speaking world.

She has won numerous prizes, awards and scholarships, including a Lannan Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, four Pushcart Prizes, the Paterson Poetry Prize, the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award (twice). Her novel »Habibi« (1999) has been translated into German. Her poetry collection »19 Varieties of Gazelle. Poems of the Middle East« was shortlisted for the 2002 National Book Award. Her most recent collection, »Honeybee« won the 2008 Arab American Book Award in the category books for children and young adults. Naomi Shihab Nye lives with her family in San Antonio, Texas.

© international literaturefestival berlin