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Acclaimed Poet, Ferguson Native Naomi Shihab Nye Honored By Wash U

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Naomi Shihab Nye
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Poet Naomi Shihab Nye grew up in Ferguson and will be featured during a virtual homecoming as part of Washington University's Summer Writers Institute.

Naomi Shihab Nye has fond memories of growing up in Ferguson in the 1950s and 60s. Born to a Palestinian father and American mother, the acclaimed poet, who now lives in San Antonio, will be featured in a virtual homecoming this Saturday hosted by Washington University’s Summer Writers Institute.

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Naomi Shihab Nye
A second grade photo of Naomi Shihab Nye, who attended Central Elementary School in Ferguson

Nye, a recipient of the National Book Critics Circle’s lifetime achievement award, not only started writing early — at age 6 — she began submitting her work to publications at an early age.

“I can thank the Central [Elementary] School librarians in Ferguson for encouraging me to do that,” Nye explained. “They saw me reading children's magazines, many of which had pages featuring the work of children readers. And they said, ‘Well, you could send some of your poems there too.’”

That experience helped Nye establish a sturdy foundation for how to deal with rejection.

“I think it's very important for all writers to remember that if your work doesn't get published the first time you send it out, in no way does that mean there's no hope for you,” Nye said on St. Louis on the Air in conversation with Jeremy D. Goodwin.

Nye points to St. Louis, particularly, as a place from which writers and artists draw great inspiration.

Naomi Shihab Nye's virtual homecoming is Saturday

“I'm quite aware of how many writers were born there or grew up there or spent significant time there. And I think St. Louis is a particularly dreamy city. Not only does it have the best architecture in the whole wide world, but it's got a haunted feeling,” she said. “I do feel as if being from St. Louis is an incredibly rich and poignant experience.”

Part of Saturday evening’s virtual homecoming will include an introduction from poet Mary Jo Bang, who also attended Central Elementary School in Ferguson. The evening will also include readings of Nye’s poems, which she describes as accessible to young people and older people alike.

Listen to the conversation to hear more, including Nye reading her poems “Being from St. Louis” and “Welcome the Word.”

Related Event

What: Naomi Shihab Nye virtual homecoming
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: Free virtual event but registration required

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. Paola Rodriguez is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Alex is the executive producer of "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

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