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Read Across America Day

March 2, 2009

Today the Archives highlights the work of San Antonio author Naomi Shihab Nye in honor of the NEA’s Read Across America Day, a program that started twelve years ago to motivate children to read. Nye has written several books for young readers.

Click images to enlarge.

Journal kept in Jerusalem, 1966

Corrected typescript for Habibi

Childhood artwork, 1960s

Letter to editor about Sweet Sifter in Time (A Maze Me)

Name poem, 1980

Naomi Shihab Nye was born in 1951 to a Palestinian father and American mother. As a teenager, she spent time visiting her Palestinian grandmother in Jerusalem. Her experiences as a child allowed the flavors of her Arab-American upbringing to be woven in the words of her writings. The UTSA Archives holds her personal and professional papers.Nye’s work includes the young adult novel Habibi, about a 14-year-old Palestinian-American girl named Liyana who is uprooted and moved to Jerusalem by her parents. As Liyana adjusts to her new life, she falls in love with Omer, a Jewish boy. In real life, Nye kept a journal of her stay in Jerusalem with her Palestinian grandmother. In it, she writes about people she meets and her one true friend, an Italian girl from her new school, a boys’ school. In one entry she writes about the cities she and her family visit. Noting how barren the road to Jericho is and how sultry and heavy the air becomes near the Dead Sea and how moon-like the landscape appears compared to how “fantastically modern” Amman, the capital, is.For younger readers, there is Sitti’s Secrets, the story of a young girl who visits her grandmother (Sitti) in a Palestinian village where she becomes aware of the tensions in her grandmother’s homeland.

Nye has published numerous collections of original poetry as well. Some of her poetry compilations include A Maze Me: Poems for Girls (originally titled Sweet Sifter in Time before Nye was informed that not enough young people know what a sifter is), I Feel A Little Jumpy Around You: Paired Poems by Men & Women, The Tree is Older Than You Are, and Is This Forever, Or What?: Poems & Paintings from Texas.

In addition to her writing career, Nye has also worked as a visiting teacher of writing in schools at all grade levels and at the college level, including the University of California at Berkeley, University of Texas at San Antonio, and the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas at Austin.

Nye received a presidential appointment to the National Council of the National Endowment for the Humanities and has received numerous awards including four Pushcart prizes and the Charity Randall prize. She has been a Lannan Fellow, a Guggenheim Fellow, and a Wittner Bynner Fellow and has traveled throughout the world promoting international goodwill through the arts.

Readers who are interested in the life and work of Naomi Shihab Nye can find a wealth of information in the Naomi Shihab Nye Papers. Part of the San Antonio Authors Collection, the collection includes typescripts, manuscripts, drafts, proofs, and other pre-publication forms of writings. Researchers can find early and revised drafts of poems, essays, and other writings, as well as numerous unpublished poems. Also available in the Nye collection is an extensive correspondence file, photographs, published and unpublished contributions to books and journals, biographical material, teaching materials, and documentation of her numerous public appearances.

By Tatina Wulzer, Library Assistant II
All images are from the Naomi Shihab Nye Papers, 1894-2009, MS 159, Archives and Special Collections, UTSA Library.

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