“Poetry (is) more necessary than ever as a fire to light our tongues,” writes Naomi Shihab Nye in her book of selected poems, “Salting the Ocean — 100 Poems by Young Poets.”

Zell Distinguished Poet in Residence Naomi Shihab Nye: Poetry Reading

Tonight at 7 p.m.
UMMA, The Apse

Often regarded as a voice of Arab-American culture, Naomi Nye is the newest participant in the historical Zell Visiting Writers tradition at the ‘U.’

Born in St. Louis, Mo., Nye grew up in a variety of locations around the world, which may be part of the reason she chooses to refer to herself as a “wandering poet.” She has traveled around the world three times for the United States Information Agency, promoting goodwill through the use of art.

She is the author or co-editor of 25 books including “19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East,” “Words Under the Words,” “Fuel,” and “You & Yours” — a 2006 best-seller. Additionally, she is awaiting the release of two new books: “There Is No Long Distance Now” and “Transfer.”

“She’s someone who has had a pretty long and vibrant career,” said Megan Levad, assistant director of the MFA program at the ‘U.’ “Her work has such reach, because she writes so broadly, and also reaches to a wide audience.”

She added, “It’s exciting to bring in somebody who will bring together a lot of different audiences … not just university students and faculty, (but also) community members and people driving in from around the area.”

Nye has often spoken up for Arab-American culture, expressing indignation at prejudice through her work.

“I think (Nye’s writing is) ideal for the University of Michigan,” said Levad, who runs the Zell Visiting Writer Series. “I think it … perfectly reflects the sort of bridging of cultural backgrounds that happens when people come together for edification and inspiration.”

Nye’s poetry has often been lauded: She has received numerous awards, including the Academy of American Poets’ Lavan Award, the Carity Randall Prize, as well as four Pushcart Prizes. She has been recognized as a Lannan Fellow, a Witter Bynner Fellow and a Guggenheim Fellow, and served as chancellor at the Academy of American Poets.

“Formally (her writing) is fairly simple,” Levad said. “People don’t feel like they need to have some long experience in poetry to understand and enjoy her work. If you read it more closely … it will continue to reveal to you the depth of its intelligence.”

Nye will take part in three main events this week. Tonight, she will lead a poetry reading in the Museum Apse at the University of Michigan Museum of Art. At 8 p.m. on Wednesday, she will be interviewed live by T Hetzel for WCBN’s “Living Writers” program at the Work Gallery on State Street. This Thursday, Nye will deliver a lecture titled “There is no long distance now: How reading and writing changes everything” at the Helmet Stern Auditorium at UMMA.

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