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Naomi Shihab Nye

Naomi Shihab Nye

A Guide to the Naomi Shihab Nye Papers

Descriptive Summary


Naomi Shihab Nye, 1952-


Naomi Shihab Nye Papers, 1955-2010s, bulk 1970s - 2010s

1955 - 2010s (bulk 1970s-2010s)

Naomi Shihab Nye, acclaimed poet who also writes essays, songs, novels, and children’s books; edits poetry anthologies, and teaches poetry writing to youth and adults, was born in 1952 in St. Louis, Missouri to Aziz Shihab, a journalist and immigrant from Palestine, and Miriam Shihab, a Montessori teacher with a fine arts degree in painting. Forty-eight document boxes and seven oversized boxes containing drafts, diaries and notebooks, photographic material, correspondence, and published material document the working life of poet, writer, and educator Naomi Shihab Nye (1952- ).

Collection # 133

48 document boxes and 7 oversized boxes (30 linear feet).

Materials are in English

The Wittliff Collections, Texas State University

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

[Item name, item date, box number, folder number, Naomi Shihab Nye Papers, The Wittliff Collections, Texas State University.

Acquisition Information

Materials received from Naomi Shihab Nye in 2017.

Processing Information

Processed by Lauren Goodley in 2020, with Susannah Broyles and Carol Alvarez.

Related Material

A collection of 53.6 linear feet (115 boxes and 1 drawer of oversize material) of additional Naomi Shihab Nye Papers are held at the University of Texas at San Antonio Special Collections, described here:


Biographical Sketch



Naomi Shihab Nye, acclaimed poet who also writes essays, songs, novels, and children’s books; edits poetry anthologies, and teaches poetry writing to youth and adults, was born in 1952 in St. Louis, Missouri to Aziz Shihab, a journalist and immigrant from Palestine, and Miriam Shihab, a Montessori teacher with a fine arts degree in painting. Nye has won numerous awards, including her first major recognition for Hugging the Jukebox as a National Poetry Series selection in 1982, critical acclaim for her 2011 short story collection There Is No Long Distance Now: Very Short Stories, Best Books for Young Adults several times from the American Library Association, and the gratitude of San Antonio Independent School District teachers for her poetry teaching packets. Nye is a Lannan Fellow, a Guggenheim Fellow, and Poetry Foundation Young People’s Poet Laureate for 2019-2021. Nye referred to herself as an “itinerant writer,” referring to the twelve years from 1974-1986 she spent teaching poetry in schools around Texas, while also writing and publishing. Nye lists her early influences, starting at age five, as Carl Sandberg, Margaret Wise Brown, Emily Dickinson, William Blake, and Louisa May Alcott. High School and college influences include Henry David Thoreau, Jack Kerouac, Gregory Corso, Gary Snyder, Gertrude Stein, and William Stafford; the last of whom Nye was able to work with, and she became friends with Stafford and his family.


Nye began writing early in life, publishing poetry at age 7 and continuing throughout her childhood. She wrote a column for teens in high school, and while teaching across Texas and the country she continued to write and publish. While teaching children poetry during the Gulf War, which began in 1991, Nye read the students poetry written by Iraqi writers, and ultimately edited This Same Sky: A Collection of Poems from Around the World, which includes 129 poets from 68 countries. Her young adult novel Going Going, 2005, is an attempt to recognize and document her neighborhood in San Antonio, Texas as it changed due to gentrification. This attention to the connection of people across the world, and their local daily realities, imbues Nye’s work. For Nye, the best audience is children, and she does not recognize a distinction between adult and children’s writing. While writing poetry for adults in the 1970s and 1980s, Nye searched for cross-over texts to use with the young people she was teaching. In the 1990s her editor Virginia Duncan suggested she write for children, which she did with Sitti’s Secrets, and continues today. To date, Nye has published audio recordings of songs she wrote and sang; children’s books, including picture books, poetry, poetry anthologies, and young adult novels; written and edited poetry for adults; served as a columnist for Organica and poetry editor for Texas Observer; and contributed to numerous poetry anthologies and periodicals.


Early Life and Family


Naomi Nye and her family moved to Jerusalem when she was in high school, around 1965, where she met her father’s family for the first time. Nye attended a school that instructed in Arabic, Armenian, and English, though she only knew English. After the 6-Day War in 1967, she moved with her parents and brother to San Antonio, Texas, where she still resides. Nye graduated from high school in Texas without ever having attended a football game, and in honor of this accomplishment the football players bought her a mum. Nye attended Trinity University in San Antonio and lived with her parents. She graduated summa cum laude in 1974 with a degree in English and World Religions. In 1978, Nye married Michael Nye, a lawyer-turned-photographer, and in 1986 they had a son, Madison Cloudfeather. After college, Naomi and Michael traveled extensively in Mexico and Central America, which produced many unpublished (?) poems from this time period, and in response to the Mexican American culture in San Antonio but lack of Mexican culture, the anthology The Tree Is Older than You Are: A Bilingual Gathering of Poems and Stories from Mexico with Paintings by Mexican Artists, decades later in 1995. Nye continued her high school work of essayist, writing numerous articles on topics from poetry to politics to housework for various newspapers, served as a columnist for Organica: A Magazine of Art and Activism, and as poetry editor for The Texas Observer.


Non-Writing Work


Nye was the most active employee at the Texas Commission on the Arts Writers in the Schools Project, working across Texas and publishing chapbook and poetry. She stopped this work in 1986 when her son was born. Nye also worked as a visiting instructor or writer in residence across US colleges and schools, as well as internationally, including at the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Hawai’i Manoa, the University of Texas at Austin and at San Antonio, and Texas State University in San Marcos.

Nye also contributed to two PBS television series, the “Language of Life” with Bill in 1995, and “The United States of Poetry” in 1996. As a young woman in the late 1970s, Nye wrote songs and played guitar and sang in coffee shops and for schoolchildren. She recorded an album of children’s songs, Rutabaga-Roo in 1979, and an album of folk songs, Lullaby Raft in 1981. Nye writes for adults and children, is adept in multiple genres, finds home in her backyard and wherever in the world she travels, and teaches and edits anthologies as well as writes poetry. Similarly, she is both loving and accepting of all people, and a fierce activist for peace and justice.


Scope and Content Note


Forty-eight document boxes and seven oversized boxes containing drafts, diaries and notebooks, photographic material, correspondence, and published material document the working life of poet, writer, and educator Naomi Shihab Nye (1952- ). The collection has been arranged into seven series: Series I: Personal and Biographical; Series II: Works; Series III: Correspondence; Series IV: Instruction; Series V: Appearances and Awards; Series VI: Writings on Nye; and Series VII: Works by Others. Multiple drafts of published and unpublished songs, poems, short stories, and essays document Nye’s creative work from an early age through high school, college, and adulthood. While her own books are not as well documented, Nye’s work as editor of several poetry collections is well-documented. Of note is correspondence with long-time editor Virginia Duncan, which documents their working relationship as well as several projects. Also of note is Shihab Nye’s teaching work, documented via poems written by children, clippings, and reports.


Series Descriptions

Series I: Personal and Biographical, 1958-2010s
Boxes 1-2


Personal and Biographical materials contain legal, family, and biographical materials, and photographic materials. Legal documents include contracts and copyright papers for very early works and songs, library card, vaccinations and passport. Biographical material includes multiple vitas, online biographies and publication lists, and school and family documents. Of note is a college reunion questionnaire and a Guggenheim application with reference letter from Charles Busch. Photographs many headshots and portraits, including some by photographer and husband Michael Nye. Certain events are well documented in photographs, including gatherings of family and friends, and work-related events.


Series II: Works, 1963-2018 and undated, Boxes 2-31.


The largest series by far is Works. Subseries include Diaries, Notebooks, Appointment Books, Artwork, Early Work, Music, Poems, Monographs-Poetry, Monographs-Edited Poetry, Monographs-Prose, Editor Correspondence, Short Stories, Essays, Publications, Artbooks, Broadsides, and Talks.


Diaries and Notebooks are arranged chronologically and include diary entries starting at age eight, and ideas and drafts for poems and longer writings. Individual works are noted where possible. Artwork and Early Work document a small amount of grade school, high school, and college creative work. Music contains many songs arranged alphabetically by title; some songs include chords, notes, and corrections, and there is some overlap in titles with Poems.


Poems make up the bulk of this series, with 7 ½ boxes of poems, including unpublished works and early writings from Nye’s travels in Central and South America in the 1970s. Poems are arranged alphabetically by title, and vary from single drafts of unmarked poems, to multiple drafts with annotations and corrections. There is overlap in titles with Music, Monographs, and Publications.


Monographs-Poetry, Monographs-Edited Poetry, and Monographs-Prose contain materials related to published books for children and adults, arranged by publication date. Contents vary widely by title from one letter or review, to multiple drafts and correspondence.


Editor Correspondence contains letters and faxes between Nye and longtime editor Virginia Duncan and documents their relationship as well as the creation and production of various monographs. This correspondence is placed within the Works series because it often contains full drafts or items that relate to more than one work. As there is overlap with Monographs, researchers are encouraged to review both subseries when investigating a particular work. Some correspondence between Duncan and others, in reference to Nye’s works, is also included.


Stories, Essays, Publications, Art Books, Broadsides, and Talks complete the Works Series. Short Stories and Essays are arranged alphabetically by title. Materials vary from single draft to multiple drafts with annotations and comments. Publications, Art Books, and Broadsides are arranged chronologically and include poems published in journals, and special/limited run publications. Talks are often are not labeled or dated, and they are generally notes for speeches.


Series III: Correspondence, 1960-circa 2010s and undated
Boxes 31-37


The Correspondence Series is divided into A-Z and Family. Note that correspondence with Virginia Duncan is included in Works-Editor Correspondence. Correspondence A-Z is arranged alphabetically by correspondent and includes personal and business correspondence. Letters and emails may include poems by correspondent; this information and the institution and/or related work by Nye is noted when known. Correspondents with multiple letters are housed in separate folders; these include Roberto (Bob) Bonazzi, Ashley Bryan, Edward Hirsch, Albert Huffstickler, Ted Kooser, Maury Maverick, Jr., Michael W. McCann, William McNamara, William (W.S.) Merwin, John Phillip Santos, William (Bill) Stafford, and Kim and Kit Stafford. Evidence of Nye’s personal relationships with several of these poets and their families is in folders of Stella Kerouac, Barbara Stafford Wilson, and in particular Dorothy Stafford and Paula Merwin. Family Correspondence includes the Shihabs and the Nyes, and is arranged alphabetically by correspondent.


Series IV: Instruction, circa 1970s - circa 2010s
Boxes 38-40


The Instruction Series documents Nye’s considerable teaching work for twelve years in public schools across Texas as part of the Texas Commission on the Arts Writers in the Schools Programs, and in other parts of the United States and particularly the Arabic-speaking world. The bulk of the materials consists of student poems, collected into photocopied or mimeographed publications, many from San Antonio Independent School District schools. Also included are single poems and songs, and student letters and poems, labeled “Testimonials,” by Nye. Lesson plans include the “Rutabaga Roo” teacher packet that Nye shared with San Antonio public school teachers as well as many notes. Business Documents include a proposal, CV, reports to the Texas Commission on the Arts and Humanities, and clippings; Adult Instruction includes limited materials related to instruction at Haystack Program in the Arts, American Cultural Center Lahore, Palestine Poetry Festival, and the University of Hawai’i at Manoa, the University of Texas at San Antonio, and the University of Texas at Austin


Series V: Appearances and Awards, 1974-2017 and undated

Boxes 40-42


Appearances and Awards document Shihab Nye’s instruction, book promotion, and awards, and generally contain posters, flyers, pamphlets, or promotional materials for the events, and certificates for the awards. Materials include flyers for singing appearances in the late 1970s at coffee shops


Series VI: Writings on Nye, 1970-2015 and undated

Boxes 43-45 and Oversized Boxes 53-54


Writings on Shihab Nye contain clippings and articles newspapers and magazines. Materials are organized into Interviews, Catalogs, Promotion, Events, Reviews, Clippings, and Magazine Articles. The bulk of the materials are from the San Antonio Express-News and the Dallas Morning-News. Of note are articles documenting Nye's early career as traveling poet for schools in Texas, profiles from the towns where she led workshops and conferences, and local coverage from a 1984 trip to South America. Also included are unpublished papers and articles.


Series VII: Works by Others, 1920, 1965-2015 and undated

Boxes 45-48, Oversized Boxes 52 and 55


Works by Others include musical and theatrical adaptations of Nye’s works, Artist Files compiled by Shihab Nye, and Collected and Received materials. Artist Files include clippings on Ashley Bryan, who illustrated Salting the Ocean: 100 Poems by Young Poets. Artist Files also include drafts, clippings, publications, correspondence, and other materials by Texas writers Roberto Bonazzi, Sandra Cisneros, Albert Huffstickler, Jack Myers, John Phillip Santos, and San Antonio politician Maury Maverick, Jr. Also included are Michael Nye draft and article and considerable writings and correspondence by Nye’s father Aziz Shihab. Note that these files organized by Nye are separate from letters found in Series III: Correspondence. Collected and received materials include chapbooks, exhibition catalogs, broadsides, publications, poems, prose, art, and various collected clippings and newspapers.

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