Left to right: Lena Khalaf Tuffaha and Naomi Shihab Nye at Town Hall Seattl 
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Left to right: Lena Khalaf Tuffaha and Naomi Shihab Nye at Town Hall Seattl
Credit: Courtesy of Libby Lewis Photography

Rock star poet sings ‘The Tiny Journalist’ blues

Naomi Shihab Nye is a heralded American poet.

She was born in St. Louis, Missouri. Her father, the journalist Aziz Shihab, was a Palestinian refugee. Her mother Miriam, an American of European descent, was a teacher and painter.

Nye published her first poem when she was seven years old. She credits her second grade teacher, Harriet Lane, as an inspiration. Nye spent her teenage years between Jerusalem and San Antonio, Texas, where she later settled. She teaches creative writing at Texas State University.

Nye says that, for her, “the primary source of poetry has always been local life, random characters met on the streets, our own ancestry sifting down to us through small essential daily tasks.”

She also calls herself “a wandering poet.” She tells the story on this episode of when the band U2 took some of her poems on tour with them to scroll behind them as they performed. She says her poems like going on tour.

The Poetry Foundation recently named Nye the Young People's Poet Laureate. She is the first Arab American to serve in that role.

Her latest collection of poetry is “The Tiny Journalist.” It was inspired by Janna Tamimi, a young Palestinian journalist known for her videos of anti-occupation protests. The two have not met each other, but they correspond.

“All these great projects we don’t hear about. The village that’s half-Jewish, half-Arab: Neve Shalom. Wāħat as-Salām. The most wonderful village. Why can’t it be the model?” Nye has said.

Naomi Shihab Nye was the featured guest in this Seattle Arts & Lectures Poetry Series event at Town Hall Seattle on September 19. You’ll hear Writers in the Schools (WITS) poet Adrienne K. Tibbs read her poem “Between You and Me.”

Then Nye reads from and talks about her work before being joined on stage by Seattle-based poet, essayist, and translator Lena Khalaf Tuffaha.

We end the podcast with singer-songwriter Kristin Chambers’ performance of her song “Past the Waves,” inspired by Nye’s poem “Sometimes There Is a Day.”

KUOW’s Sonya Harris recorded the event.