“Her writing is so warm and accessible—it can be funny and also very sophisticated,” Litwin said. “It never talks down to the reader, and that is what I hope young people will receive from hearing her.”
“Poetry lives everywhere,” says poet Naomi Shihab Nye, who was named the Young People’s Poet Laureate by the Poetry Foundation on May 7, 2019. “Whether it’s in a small village where no one has ever said the word poetry, or in an elementary school classroom—there’s no place that poetry doesn’t live.”
If anyone can make that claim, it’s Nye, writes Cat Cardenas for Texas Monthly. Palestinian-American writer Naomi Shihab Nye, who lives in San Antonio, has dedicated the majority of her decades-long career to working with young writers across the world. Starting in 1974, she spent fifteen years traveling across Texas as a visiting writer with the Texas Commission on the Arts. In inner-city schools or rural communities, she saw up close the potential her students had to create works of poetry and draw on their own experiences.
It’s also something she knew firsthand. From the time she began writing at six years old, Nye drew upon the deep well of her bicultural upbringing. Her love of writing was shaped by her father’s stories of his native Palestine and the books and poems her mother would read to her.
By the time she learned to write, she remembers being gripped by the urge to jot down a poem. The first was a four-line piece she wrote in first grade that her teacher later posted in the hallway. “I was overcome with the feeling that I needed to do this always,” she says. Nye has followed that passion for four decades, working as an editor, anthologist, songwriter, and author of eighteen novels, short stories, and poetry books for adult and young adult audiences.
Since 2006, the Young People’s Poet Laureate honor has been awarded every other year to living writers who have dedicated their careers to writing poetry for young readers. According to Katherine Litwin, director of the Poetry Foundation, Nye is the first Arab-American to receive the honor. As Nye begins her term, she is particularly passionate about bringing poetry to rural areas that aren’t often a priority for visiting writers. Through Nye’s efforts, Litwin says she hopes a new generation of young adults are exposed to her work. “Her writing is so warm and accessible—it can be funny and also very sophisticated,” Litwin said. “It never talks down to the reader, and that is what I hope young people will receive from hearing her.”
The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine, is an independent literary organization committed to a vigorous presence for poetry in culture. It exists to discover and celebrate the best poetry and to place it before the largest possible audience. The Foundation seeks to be a leader in shaping a receptive climate for poetry by developing new audiences, creating new avenues for delivery, and encouraging new kinds of poetry.
Established in 2003 upon receipt of a major gift from philanthropist Ruth Lilly, the Poetry Foundation evolved from the Modern Poetry Association, which was founded in 1941 to support the publication of Poetry magazine. The gift from Ruth Lilly allowed the Poetry Foundation to expand and enhance the presence of poetry in the United States and established an endowment that will fund Poetry magazine in perpetuity.