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Walking in Claremont, California the other day, I saw a handwritten sign on a wall: NO HUMAN IS ILLEGAL. Because I live in a Texas city with a high majority of Latino residents and an ongoing conversation about citizenship and human rights, this sign caught me up. I had never seen the truth stated so simply before.” — Naomi Shihab Nye


How we can join together across “borders” of all kinds to build vibrant communities?  This question is at the heart Naomi Shihab Nye’s poems.  It is also the question that will serve as the focus of No Human is Illegal, a community conversation with  Naomi Shihab Nye on  Thursday, September 28, 2017.

Assumption Professor Lucia Knoles will open the discussion by inviting Naomi Shihab Nye to share her poems and thoughts on immigrants, border crossings, and how we can learn to live as true neighbors.  In the second part of the session, the conversation will be broadened to include comments and questions from the audience.

This event is sponsored by The Clemente Course in the Humanities, Worcester, with support from Mass Humanities and the Worcester Art Museum.  Now in its fourth year serving Worcester, Clemente offers accredited college-level instruction to educationally and economically disadvantaged adults at no cost.  Participants study literature, art history, moral philosophy, and U.S. History in a welcoming community setting.


About Naomi Shihab Nye

Naomi Shihab Nye describes herself as a “wandering poet.”  She has spent 40 years traveling the country and the world to lead writing workshops and inspiring students of all ages.

Nye was born to a Palestinian father and an American mother and grew up in St. Louis, Jerusalem, and San Antonio. Drawing on her Palestinian-American heritage, the cultural diversity of her home in Texas, and her experiences traveling in Asia, Europe, Canada, Mexico, and the Middle East, Nye uses her writing to attest to our shared humanity.

Naomi Shihab Nye is the author and/or editor of more than 30 volumes. Her books of poetry include 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East, A Maze Me: Poems for Girls, Red Suitcase, Words under the Words, Fuel, and You & Yours (a best-selling poetry book of 2006). She is also the author of Mint Snowball (paragraphs); Never in a Hurry and I’ll Ask You Three Times, Are You Okay?, Tales of Driving and Being Driven (essays); Habibi and Going, Going (novels for young readers); Baby Radar, Sitti’s Secrets, and Famous (picture books), and There Is No Long Distance Now (a collection of very short stories).

Other works include several prize-winning poetry anthologies for young readers, including Time You Let Me In, This Same Sky, The Space Between Our Footsteps: Poems & Paintings from the Middle East, What Have You Lost?, and Transfer. Her collection of poems for young adults entitled Honeybee won the 2008 Arab American Book Award in the Children’s/Young Adult category. Her novel for children, The Turtle of Oman, was chosen both a Best Book of 2014 by The Horn Book and a 2015 Notable Children’s Book by the American Library Association. The Turtle of Oman was also awarded the 2015 Middle East Book Award for Youth Literature.Naomi Shihab Nye has been a Lannan Fellow, a Guggenheim Fellow, and a Witter Bynner Fellow (Library of Congress).

She has received a Lavan Award from the Academy of American Poets, the Isabella Gardner Poetry Award, the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award, the Paterson Poetry Prize, four Pushcart Prizes, the Robert Creeley Prize, and “The Betty Prize” from Poets House, for service to poetry, and numerous honors for her children’s literature, including two Jane Addams Children’s Book Awards. In 2011 Nye won the Golden Rose Award given by the New England Poetry Club, the oldest poetry reading series in the country. Her collection 19 Varieties of Gazelle was a finalist for the National Book Award. Her work has been presented on National Public Radio on A Prairie Home Companion and The Writer’s Almanac. She has been featured on two PBS poetry specials including “The Language of Life with Bill Moyers” and also appeared on NOW with Bill Moyers. She has been affiliated with The Michener Center for writers at the University of Texas at Austin for 20 years and also poetry editor at The Texas Observer for 20 years. In January 2010 Nye was elected to the Board of Chancellors of the Acad- emy of American Poets. She was named laureate of the 2013 NSK Neustadt Award for Children’s Literature. In 2017 the American Library Association presented Naomi Shihab Nye with the 2018 May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture Award.


Selected Poems by Naomi Shihab Nye


Cross that Line


Listen to Garrison Keillor read “Shoulders” on The Writer’s Almanac



Quotes from Interviews with Naomi Shihab Nye


There are people in this world who believe, truly believe, in connections. Nothing can talk us out of them. All the tragically bad human behavior of recent years cannot sway us from our conviction that the majority of beings on our planet want, and need, to live peacefully together.

Teachers and librarians tend to be the heroes of people like us, since they are devoted to uplifting, sharing, enlarging, and expanding consciousness, as opposed to accumulating vast stores of power and wealth. I remember feeling, as a child, that teachers and librarians “had all the answers” or at least knew how to look for them, and I would still like to believe something close to that. . . 

Literature is one of the best bridges among us. And it is a beautiful bridge without a toll. Books, stories, poems, encouraging a deepened empathy and respect for one another, especially for those “others” whom one might have imagined to be “unlike ourselves,” serve a great purpose in the current sorrowing time. . .

Each one of us readers might gain from identifying who feels “other” to us at any given time—geographically, ethnically, economically, religiously, experientially—and make a concerted effort to find texts that help to illuminate those “other” lives. Even if we don’t end up “loving them” completely, we may learn something important.

–“From One Friend to Another,” English Journal Vol. 94, No. 3 January 2005 39




Bill Moyers: As an American of Arab descent do you feel after 9/11 that you have to explain yourself?

Naomi Shihab Nye: Well, not explain myself so much because I’m more identifiable as an American. But I certainly understand my cousins when they said their friends grew more supportive but people they didn’t know , during the past year, took two steps backward sometimes before they would agree to get to know them.

That life became more difficult in that way. And I think we all needed to work harder to maintain a feeling of openness to anyone we might identify as the “other.” Now, that’s what interests me. How can we keep bridging the gap that sets someone apart from us and finding a way to know them that will help us all.

Bill Moyers: You write this one line in which you talk about “The men who have so much pain, there’s no place to store it.” Who are you writing about?

Naomi Shihab Nye: I was thinking about Palestinian refugees, and the people of my Grandmother’s village when I wrote that. And my father in his own life. And– all the people of different countries in the world who have lost things that many other people can never understand.

You know those of us who leave our homes in the morning and expect to find them there when we go back– it’s hard for us to understand what the experience of a refugee might be like.

Bill Moyers:  But how do people deal with such immeasurable lose in their life?

Naomi Shihab Nye: How do they maintain any shred of dignity and balance? You know those are the courageous people to me. All the– simple people of the earth who– don’t lose their sanity in the face of– constant– dis-ease in the world they live in. Who keep sending their children to school, who keep combing their children’s hair. How do they do that?

 Naomi Shihab Nye: A Bill Moyers Interview


Interviewer: So given the current events of what’s been happening in the US, and after the election cycle, what do you believe is the civic responsibility of a poet today?

Naomi Shihab Nye:
. . .  I do think that poets have their work cut out for them. No days off. And everyone’s going to have to do their best to speak honestly and make their best attempt to make life better in small manageable ways that are around us, like I really care about education and kids and creativity with kids. Culture and community, there being really nice things available for people to attend and participate in if they want to. So I think we do have to work on a small scale as well, expressing our opinions in a wide way.

Poetry is a small scale genre. Poetry is a finite genre. Poetry’s short. You can hold it in one hand. It’s a portable genre and I think, in some ways, that’s good. Because we’re used to working in a manageable close to home way. That’s what we do. We’re not running for office demanding millions and billions of dollars. So poetry works small. So I think we have a lot of opportunities to do as much as we can do in the next four years.

But I hope a lot of people don’t get hurt. Don’t get deported and insulted. * * * I believe that poems are a source of healing and need to be and want to be. That’s a big part of their job. We have to keep working in every venue possible to us, in every venue available, to find words for healing . . .

— Interview with Naomi Shihab Nye: “I believe that poems are a source of healing. ” Apricity Magazine


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