Different Ways to Pray, 1980
On the Edge of the Sky, 1981
Hugging the Jukebox, 1982
Yellow Glove, 1986
Travel Alarm, 1993
Red Suitcase, 1994
Words Under the Words: Selected Poems, 1995
Mint Snowball, 2001
Never in a Hurry: Essays on People and Places, 1996
Children’s/Young Adult Literature:
This Same Sky: A Collection of Poems from Around the World, 1992
Benito’s Dream Bottle, 1994
Sitti’s Secrets, 1994
Lullaby Raft, 1996
What Have You Lost?, 1999
Come with Me: Poems for a Journey, 2000
Nineteen Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East, 2002
The Tree Is Older than You Are: A Bilingual Gathering of Poems and Stories from Mexico with Paintings by Mexican Artists, 1995
I Feel a Little Jumpy Around You, 1996 (with Paul B. Janeczko)
The Space Between Our Foot Steps: Poems and Paintings from the Middle East, 1998
Salting the Ocean: One Hundred Poems by Young Poets, 2001
The Flag of Childhood: Poems of the Middle East, 2002
The Fan of Swords, 1991 (of Muhammad al-Maghut’s poetry)
Naomi Shihab Nye (ni) became recognized as one of the most talented and acclaimed American writers in the late twentieth century. In 1982 she won the National Poetry Series and the ALA Notable Book Awards for Hugging the Jukebox; she has received several Pushcart Prizes; she has also received other notable prizes, such as the Texas Institute of Letters Poetry Prize, the Charity Randall Prize for Spoken Poetry from the International Poetry Forum, the I. B. Lavan Award from the Academy of American Poets, the Paterson Poetry Prize. Nineteen Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East was a finalist for the 2002 National Book Awards, in the Young People’s Literature category.
The child of an American mother of German-Swiss descent and a Palestinian father, Nye is sensitive to poetic explorations that both embrace and transcend cultural boundaries. In her youth, she lived for a time in Israel with her family; as an adult she has returned to the Middle East as well as to Asia on three speaking tours sponsored by the United States Information Agency (USIA). She settled in San Antonio, Texas, with her photographer husband, Michael, and her son, Madison (born in 1987). Just as her experiences overseas encouraged and assisted her compilation of This Same Sky: A Collection of Poems from Around the World, the proximity of Mexico to her San Antonio home was the catalyst for The Tree Is Older than You Are, a bilingual anthology of Mexican poets and story writers. In I Feel a Little Jumpy Around You, an anthology Nye edited for teenagers, she examines gender questions in poems that are male-female duets.
Nye’s poems move around the world, and her work encompasses the territories of womanhood, war, pain, and old age.
In the prose poem “The Attic and Its Nails,” Nye writes It’s hard up there. You dig in a box for whatever the moment requires: sweater, wreath, the other half of the walky-talky, and find twelve things you forgot about which delay the original search, since now that you found them you have to think about them. Do I want to keep this, bring it downstairs? Of course your life feels very different from the life you had when you packed it up there . . . .
It’s hard up there. You dig in a box for whatever the moment requires: sweater, wreath, the other half of the walky-talky, and find twelve things you forgot about which delay the original search, since now that you found them you have to think about them. Do I want to keep this, bring it downstairs? Of course your life feels very different from the life you had when you packed it up there . . . .
In this poem about items being sought in the attic, Nye illustrates a poet’s search into her mind for her subjects, in the course of which she can discover far more than she had originally intended to find. The act of writing poetry is “hard,” the poet tells us; however, it is not as hard to find as it is to select a subject. The idea of selection is at the core of Nye’s poetry: Her world may be huge, but its particularity is infinite. In Bill Moyers’s television series The Language of Life, Nye said, “I think the tiniest moments are the most splendid,” and that “everything is famous if you notice it.”
This aesthetic is constantly reflected in Nye’s work. In “The Trashpickers, Madison Street,” the trashpickers find tinfoil wads, knotted strings, crooked skillets, old nails, and the rebirth of envelopes. This, according to the poem, is a “first kingdom,” a province easily overlooked because of its minutiae yet guaranteed to bring all of us trashpickers joy. In “Jerusalem” Nye writes, “I’m not interested in/ who suffered the most./ I’m interested in/ people getting over it.” Despite the world’s violence and its irreparable harm, the poem suggests that human beings have the choice not to hate, that the small, intimate details of the external and internal worlds might bring readers to that “place . . . where hate won’t grow.”
One of the greatest strengths of Nye’s poetry, apart from its cross-cultural focus and its fine attention to the smallness of the world, may be its optimistic resolve. As Nye says in “Famous,” “I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,/ or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,/ but because it never forgot what it could do.” Nye’s poetry is a poetry of capability and assent.