2018-10-01 / Shorts

"Tell it Slant"

Award-winning poet Naomi Shihab Nye headlines Penn State’s 2018 Emily Dickinson Lecture
William Hessert

Poetry lovers in Centre County, take note:  This month award-winning poet Naomi Shihab Nye will read from her works as part of Penn State’s annual Emily Dickinson Lectureship in American Poetry.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Emily Dickinson Lecture, an event that brings notable poets to campus each fall to visit English classes and talk to students about poetry before delivering their lecture. Past participants include six U.S. Poets Laureate, five of whom also received Pulitzer Prizes; three additional Pulitzer Prize winners; and two of only five poets ever invited to read at U.S. presidential inaugurations.

Dr. Mark Morrison, professor and head of the Penn State Department of English, says the event has grown to become “one of the most significant poetry reading series offered by any university in the country.”

The annual lecture series is supported by an endowment created by Penn State alumni Barbara and George Kelly. Barbara wrote book reviews for Dickinson Studies and later served as a reviewer and book review editor for the Emily Dickinson International Society Bulletin for 20 years before retiring in 2014.

This year’s guest poet, Nye, was born to a Palestinian father and an American mother and grew up in St. Louis, Jerusalem and San Antonio. Drawing on her Palestinian-American heritage, the cultural diversity of her home in Texas, and her experiences traveling throughout the world, Nye uses her writing to attest to our shared humanity. A self-described “wandering poet,” Nye has written or edited more than 30 volumes of poetry and essays, including 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East, A Maze Me: Poems for Girls, and You & Yours. Her latest collection, Voices in the Air: Poems for Listeners, was released earlier this year.

Nye has been a Lannan Fellow, a Guggenheim Fellow and a Witter Bynner Fellow with the U.S. Library of Congress. She has received numerous awards for her poems and for her children’s literature, including two Jane Addams Children’s Book Awards. Honeybee, her collection of poems for young adults, won the 2008 Arab American Book Award in the Children’s/Young Adult category. The Turtle of Oman, her novel for children, was named a Best Book by The Horn Book and Notable Children’s Book by the American Library Association.

“To bring in authors of this caliber on an annual basis — poets who pack Foster Auditorium or larger halls with members of the community, faculty and, most importantly, students — requires not only strong financial support, but also a visible and emphatic commitment to the value of poetry,” Morrison says. •SCM

By Naomi Shihab Nye

The river is famous to the fish.

The loud voice is famous to silence,  
which knew it would inherit the earth  
before anybody said so.  

The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds  
watching him from the birdhouse.  

The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek.  

The idea you carry close to your bosom  
is famous to your bosom.  

The boot is famous to the earth,  
more famous than the dress shoe,  
which is famous only to floors.

The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it  
and not at all famous to the one who is pictured.  

I want to be famous to shuffling men  
who smile while crossing streets,  
sticky children in grocery lines,  
famous as the one who smiled back.

I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,  
or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,  
but because it never forgot what it could do.

(From Words Under the Words: Selected Poems, © 1995.)

The Emily Dickinson Lecture featuring Naomi Shihab Nye
Oct. 11, 7:30 p.m. • Foster Auditorium in Paterno Library

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