What Is Naomi Shihab Nye Wearing?

Probably twenty years ago, Young People's Poet Laureate Naomi Shihab Nye, pictured here "wearing pants I normally only wear in Hawai'i because when will I ever be there again?" gave me an object lesson in storytelling. We were having lunch at an outdoor cafe in San Antonio, and because I didn't know Naomi well at the time, I gave her one of my standard opening gambits: "Have you ever seen a ghost?"

Well. Naomi answered matter-of-factly, as if I had asked her if she ever wore pants or something, that yes, she did, and had seen one once while in a taxi with her mother in Central America. While they were riding along, a woman hurled herself in front of the cab and then disappeared. "Oh, her," said the driver, "she does that."

Just as casually, Naomi segued into a story about an Alamo soldier who haunted the hotel where I was staying, and made himself known to any men sleeping there alone. I then spent a sleepless night waiting for the soldier to appear and ask the question he's asked of male travelers since 1836: "Are you with us, or against us?"

How many lunches, never mind stories, do we remember twenty years on?


What poet of the past would you task as our Covid-chronicler?

W.S. Merwin of Maui, because his poems had a timeless quality and we have now all entered a timeless slow zone of many mysteries.

Your latest collection, Cast Away, is about the things we throw away. Are you still out there picking up the trash?

My husband thinks it is too risky to pick up trash right now. I only sneak to do it, fully gloved of course, when he isn't looking. But, not as much, and this feels very difficult for me. It's my favorite hobby! The streets are crying for their tidy person!

Have you noticed your reading tastes or habits changing in response to the lockdown?

I am just reading more than ever, perhaps twice as much, constant poetry of course, children's books to our grandson when we have him here (he is currently in love with The East West House (about Isamu Noguchi) by Christy Hale )--I just finished the fabulous novel Simon the Fiddler by Paulette Jiles, and am now into Susanna Moore's mesmerizing memoir Miss Aluminum. I urge everybody to read Attention: A Love Story by Casey Schwartz which is terrific too.

Poets love solitude, I'm guessing. But how about when it's enforced?

Solitude takes on a different fragrance when it's enforced. Still precious, but more multi-layered, a mixed bag. A poet friend said, "I never knew how much I liked human beings."

I did know that, and I really miss them.

When we once again can go anywhere, where will you go first?

I will go to the San Antonio Botanic Garden, which just reopened yesterday thank goodness, but as members we now have to book a special "reservation" in advance so only a few people are strolling around there at once.

It's a huge place so possible to stay very far away from others. It's my grandson's and my favorite place in the whole city, we take picnics, take flashlights in the evening, meander and loiter and breathe the fragrances there and just talk about plants and lizards and clouds etc. 

And while we've felt very lucky to have a yard during all this, to go to a vast garden will be the ultimate luxury, very soon.  

I will also go to Rosario's Restaurant and order Enchiladas Mexicanas. 

Find more "What Are You Wearing?" interviews here.

Roger Sutton
Roger Sutton
Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.
Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.

shutta@shuttacrum.com shutta@shuttacrum.com

Thanks! I love her poetry. Good to get to know a bit more about her.

Posted : May 10, 2020 12:44


Community matters. Stay up to date on breaking news, trends, reviews, and more.

Get access to reviews of books, ebooks, and more