Naomi Shihab Nye was born on March 12, 1952, in St. Louis, Missouri, the daughter of Palestinian journalist Aziz Shihab, an immigrant to the United States after the 1948 nakba expelling Palestinians from their communities, and an American mother, Miriam Naomi (Allwardt) Shihab, who was a teacher. Nye spent her childhood in St. Louis, developing an interest in poetry at an early age partly because of a televised performance by Carl Sandburg and poems her mother read aloud; at the age of seven, she had a poem published in Wee Wisdom, a children’s magazine. Her parents owned stores named World Gifts where Nye occasionally worked. She traveled with her family, including her younger brother Adlai, to Mexico and within the United States. Her father often told his children stories and folktales with Middle Eastern themes.
From St. Louis, fourteen-year-old Nye and her family moved to Jerusalem, where she attended the St. Tarkmanchatz School and absorbed many stories, impressions, and perceptions of the differences in cultures and the similarities among people. Many of her poems draw on her experiences with people she observed and family members she learned about or knew well. These experiences have been incorporated into her poems and her writing for children and young people.
Due to tensions preceding the Six Day War, Nye’s family left Jerusalem in 1967 and settled in San Antonio, Texas. She completed her high school education in that city. Nye read poems by William Stafford and W. S. Merwin, which intensified her interest in poetry. Seventeen printed one of Nye’s poems when she was a teenager. She studied English and world religions at Trinity University and wrote poems that were published in such journals as Ironwood and Modern Poetry Studies while she was in college. She heard Allen Ginsberg at a campus poetry reading and was influenced by Jack Kerouac, whose widow she visited in Florida. Nye earned a B.A. with honors in 1974, and was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa. Employed by the Texas Commission on the Arts, Nye traveled to Texas schools to teach creative writing and later conducted similar workshops for...
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