Students Meet Author Naomi Shihab Nye


Gabriel Lindo

On October 27, I had the privilege to personally meet author Naomi Shihab Nye.  Author of a long list of volumes of poetry, novels, short stories, as well as an editor, Nye lives in San Antonio Texas, where she grew up, although she also spent time in the West Bank of Palestine visiting her grandmother. Students in grades 10-12 studied Nye’s poetry and short stories to prepare for her visit to Houghton. They then attended a question and answer session with her last Friday afternoon.

The facilitator asked Naomi questions and then allowed us to ask questions. They included: “What hardships have you faced, being of Arab descent in the U.S.? What role does ego play being an author? Is there a story behind the poem ‘Our Principal?’ Does writing energize or exhaust you? What period of your life do you find you write about most often? There are just a few of the questions that were asked by both BCS students and Houghton College students and community members.

Nye answered each question honestly and openly. I was one of the students who asked her a question. I walked up to the mic boldly and asked, “Can you think of something you’ve written that can be interpreted multiple ways?” She was touched by this question and I was satisfied by the answer. In so many words, she said, yes, that it is expected of people to relate poems to their own experiences and feelings.

When the interview ended, time at Houghton ended for all but four students. Roseanna Lanning, Hailie Cantrell, and Kayleigh Blocho and I stayed at Houghton college while everyone else who attended the trip went back to school and resumed school work.  While they left to the buses, we went down to the quaint coffee shop on campus and ordered some beverages, and then went to the conference room where Naomi was awaiting our arrival for a poetry writing workshop. Once we arrived, along with twelve Houghton students, we sat down and listened to her advice, tips, and tricks.

She started out by telling us what writers shouldn’t worry about: perfection, competition, rejection, criticism, running out of material, being misunderstood, taking the time and space given, and failure. She offered a few quotes, but these ones stuck with me: “It takes a long time to learn that nothing is wasted,” and “Poets are not the only poets,” both quotes by artist Mary Richards. She recommended books including Braided Creek-A Conversation in Poetry and To the Mistakes.

Afterwards, she instructed us to create lists  on the things we’re not, questions we tend to ask ourselves daily, images we can’t and don’t want to unsee, and meaningful quotes we’ve recently heard.  We then took lines from these lists to create a poem.  When we all finished our poems, one by one, we read them out loud and Naomi provided feedback for each one. Before we left, we got her autograph and handshake. She was a very friendly, kind person, and I’m glad to have met her.

Hailie Cantrell said of the experience, “I really enjoyed it.  It allowed me to come out with my secret love of poetry.  It also helped me as a writer overall.  When she asked us to list things we are told a lot, it ‘hit me in the feels.’  It showed me that what people say matters a lot more than I thought.  She was amazing and very sweet.  I would have suggested going to anyone.”  

I had a great time and the trip was worthwhile. I learned new things about writing workshop and writer’s block. Watching her in videos and seeing her face to face are two completely different things, the second being a once in a lifetime opportunity.