Award-winning author and poet Naomi Shihab Nye spent a week at the American School of Doha, giving presentations for students, faculty, and parents. Ms. Nye describes herself as a “wandering poet.” She has spent 39 years traveling the world to lead writing workshops and inspire students of all ages.
Nye has been to the region many times, including visits to the UAE, Bahrain, Oman, and Saudi Arabia, but this was her first visit to Qatar. “It’s a great privilege and an honor to visit ASD – such warm, friendly, expressive students, such a great, hospitable faculty and staff,” Nye said. “And what a beautiful campus! It’s like a paradise.”
Nye was born to a Palestinian father and an American mother and grew up in St. Louis, Jerusalem, and San Antonio. The diversity of her background and travel experiences enabled her to make a special connection with the ASD students, who found much to relate to in her writing.
Nye spent the week with students from grade 1 to grade 12, sharing stories and poems and inspiring students to write. “I’ve visited schools all over the United States and the world for 39 years – surely this is one of the most inspiring ones I’ve seen. The students here are quick to write and generous about sharing their work, at every level.”
The students were told to have a notebook ready to collect thoughts and ideas every day. “It’s useful to work in a regular way with writing – keeping notebooks, tiny impressions and images, the ongoing gift of observation with somewhere to land – on a page,” Nye said. As an example, she shared with her audiences some thoughts that she jotted in her current notebook, including some things she observed at ASD.
One middle school student, after attending a poetry writing workshop, said, “I learned what the true powers of my words are. From simply an hour and twenty minutes I learned how to properly structure a poem. My favorite part was getting to hear the poems out loud that my fellow peers had written. I was both proud of my own poem and amazed by the amount of talent my friends had.” Another student said, “She is an amazing poet. I learned a deeper meaning of poetry. As she said, poetry tries to get people to think of things outside of the basic, to go in to the deeper meaning. I learned how easy it is too just gather ideas, write them down, and just write freely. That’s what I like most about poetry-- that you can write whatever you want to write.
Writing is for everyone, according to Nye. “These days we need more slowness, focus, and connection – writing creatively helps with all these things. Writing creatively helps us write more fluently no matter what we’re working on – essays, reports, analyses, college applications. Writing is for all of us – not just those who want to be writers of a literary or professional kind. We are all users of words. Writing will help us no matter what paths we follow. To feel comfortable with our own written language is a crucial, essential skill.”
One of Nye’s books of poetry, 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East, which was a finalist for the National Book Award, is dedicated to dr. Mahmoud “Mike” Sahtout, father of ASD’s own Muna Kelly. Dr Sahtout (originally from Palestine) and his family were close friends of Nye’s own family in Texas. “He was one of my heroes,” Nye says.
Nye’s visit to ASD was generously sponsored by the school’s Parent Teacher Association. Nye thanked them, as well as the teachers. “Deepest gratitude to the teachers who shared and responded to my work and who practice daily inspiration at ASD!”