Speaking to both Upper and Middle School students at separate assemblies, celebrated poet and writer Naomi Shihab Nye visited BB&N the week of September 25th. Born to a Palestinian father and an American mother with German roots, Shihab Nye is often noted for her exploration of cultural differences in her works, but in her dialogue with students, the acclaimed poet focused on the power and form of the medium as much as the literal content.
Shihab Nye read a variety of her works, many anecdotal, stressing how an examination of a moment in time can lead to incredible insight. And she pointed out that inspiration often comes from simply “paying attention” and “respecting the little things and ideas” that are encountered every day.
A recitation of one poem, “How to Paint a Donkey,” illustrated a moment in fourth grade when Shihab Nye discovered that an art teacher had been using her painting of a donkey as an example of how not to make art. The poem turns on an empowering moment when an embarrassed and sad little girl crumples up her painting, deemed unrealistically large, and throws it into the wastebasket, only to realize: “Maybe this is what I unfold in the dark, deciding for the rest of my life, that donkey was just the right size.”
Moments like this seemed to resonate with Middle School students, who welcomed the opportunity to ask questions and partake in a poetry workshop with the writer later in the day. In the workshop, or “playshop” as Shihab Nye termed it, she encouraged students to write down three small observations each day, pointing out that by month’s end, “You will have 90 moments that will give you insight into the rich tapestry of your life.”
As much as students enjoyed Shihab Nye's visit, the admiration was mutual. The poet was deeply moved by a series of Middle School art pieces inspired by Shihab Nye's work. "I wish I could take these home with me!" she exclaimed to Middle School librarian Beth Brooks during her visit.
Both Brooks and Upper School librarian Sandy Dow were thrilled at the chance to introduce such a celebrated writer into their students’ lives. Shihab Nye also spoke to more than 70 parents at a recent Head’s Speaker Series gathering.