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Poet Naomi Shihab Nye brings international background to creative writing program

Anastasia Cisneros-Lunsford | September 5, 2018

naomi nye
Poet Naomi Shihab Nye, who recently joined Texas State University as a professor of creative writing, reads from her works this past spring at The Wittliff Collections.

Internationally acclaimed poet Naomi Shihab Nye believes all of living contains poems. 

Her credence materialized one day as she took a walk in her downtown San Antonio neighborhood where she saw three lines scrawled into cement, beckoning: “You are here.”

Nye considered the brief phrase as a commitment to attention, to pay “attention to where you are because that’s part of the writing life.” 

As the daughter of a Palestinian father and an American mother, Nye’s family planted roots in St. Louis, Jerusalem and San Antonio. Poet, author and/or editor of more than 30 volumes, including her latest book of poetry, Voices in the Air: Poems for Listeners, Nye will conduct multi-genre workshops for graduate creative writing students at Texas State University as permanent faculty and professor of creative writing. 

But all titles aside, Nye sees herself as an addition to Texas State. “I’m sort of a sidekick,” she says. “Texas State’s distinguished faculty is already there so I see myself as an extra side consultant. I was very excited when (university officials) said I would do workshops that would be open to all writing students.” She conducted similar workshops at the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas at Austin for 23 years until she decided to end her commute to Austin last year.

Chair of the Department of English Dr. Daniel Lochman says Nye brings her wide experience as a writer and world traveler to Texas State’s MFA program in creative writing. Nye, he says, also brings “the pleasure she receives and gives by writing, teaching, talking about writing, and mentoring aspiring writers of all ages." “She will lead writing workshops during fall and spring semesters. Each year she will offer a public reading or a similar event for the benefit of all Texas State students.”

Nye says Texas State feels like a natural place to be. Her association with the university began 20 years ago when she became one of the readers of student manuscripts. “I’ve been able to see a wide variety of voices who study at Texas State,” she says. She even remembers leading one of the best workshops with creative writing students at the San Marcos Public Library several years ago, teaching mixed-age groups of younger students from elementary to high school. 

“The Texas State students were overwhelmed to see that all these people from all these different ages and backgrounds could have an aptitude for writing that is contagious and workable together,” she says. “So I remember that day in San Marcos as one of the great days in my 44 years working in great schools. It’s a good feeling to come back here right now.”

Named a National Book Award finalist, the author has been honored with a Lannan Foundation Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Witter Bynner Fellowship from the Library of Congress, the I.B. Lavan Award from the Academy of American Poets and four Pushcart Prizes as well as numerous honors for her books for younger readers, including two Jane Addams Children’s Book Awards. 

Nye’s literary papers joined The Wittliff Collections at Texas State last spring. Her archive contains hundreds of handwritten drafts of later poems, journals from her extensive worldwide travels, numerous photographs, rare publications and publicity materials and correspondence with other major writers. The papers are being processed and will be available for research and exhibition later this academic year. A portion of her archive is on display now at The Wittliff Collections.

Nye may see herself as a sidekick but she has much to share about her writing experience. As a writer, it’s important to listen and observe. “Poems and stories are available to us all of the time,” she explains. “When I was a child, I’d listen to conversations, stare out the window, walk around the neighborhood…poems exist in the atmosphere. Poems exist in human speech, an affection for a phrase. You hear a phrase and you love it.”

Like: “You are here.”

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