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Linda Mah
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Author Naomi Shihab Nye Charms

Noted poet and author visited Washington, Arcadia

You can use anything you’re living through to fuel your writing.

Award-winning poet and author Naomi Shihab Nye told fourth- and fifth-grade students at Washington Writers’ Academy and Arcadia Elementary School that their lives are full of interesting details and story ideas.

But, she said, she felt like they already know that given their discussion about journals, writing prompts and editing.

“You can use everything you’re living through,” Nye said. “I have a notebook and I love to write a lot of stuff down. I go back in a few weeks and I find things I probably would have forgotten.

“You are always learning little bits and pieces of experience or details that could help you. To write it down can help your life feel a little better.”

Nye was in Kalamazoo to serve as the keynote speaker at the 2016 Mary Calleto Rife Youth Literature Seminar and for a community lecture at the Kalamazoo Public Library in November. Nye’s honors include awards rom the International Poetry Forum, four Pushcart Prizes, and a Guggenhiem fellowship.

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 a Best Book of 2014 by The Horn Book and a 2015 Notable Children’s Book by the American Library Association. It was also awarded the 2015 Middle East Book Award for Youth Literature.

Susan Warner, with Kalamazoo Public Library, said this is Nye’s second visit to Kalamazoo. She spoke to the seminar in 2002. The library invited her back because of her ability to connect with audiences.

“She genuinely likes people,” Warner said. “She genuinely believes we all have something creative inside of us and we can all be writers. We don’t have to be published to be writers. It’s something all of us can do. She was so affirming to the kids at the schools.”

Nye’s 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,” and “You & Yours.”

Nye encouraged the students to use writing to not only capture ideas but to explore language and to take care of themselves emotionally.

“Do you require a perfect, happy mood to write?” she asked. “No. I think you can write in any mood. Sometimes the writing will make you feel better.”

Sometimes she said, she just falls in love with a word. She explores words’ meanings and sounds through her writing, which allows her to feel closer to the language — even languages that she does not know all that well.

Nye also told the students about the process behind writing her book “The Turtle of Oman,” a popular children’s novel about a boy who must move from Oman to Ann Arbor, where his parents will attend graduate school. With the help of his beloved grandfather, he confronts his fear and grief.

Originally, the book started as a story about a talking pillow, which her editor nixed. Then it became a story about a conversation between two houses, which her editor also nixed.

“My editor said, ‘You need to think about this book and what it is really about. And, where are your people? You love people.”

Eventually, Nye went through 11 more revisions.

“I’m telling you that in case, some day, a teacher, someone older than you are says, ‘Let’s do another draft. Let’s develop this. Add a conversation. Add more details. Let’s build a more beautiful building of words.”
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