Barakat agreed with Nye, saying, “There is a respect by the indirectness. You surround them. You don’t tell them. You subtly put it out there. And the poem will wait for you (the reader) if you don’t understand it at first.”
Nye and Barakat started composing poetry at an early age. Nye said she wrote her first poem at age 6 after visiting Chicago.
“I was dazzled by the buildings, and I had just learned to write, so I composed a four-line rhyming poem … I gave it to my teacher, who put it in the hall. A little while later, an older student came up to me and asked if I had written the Chicago poem. She said, ‘Oh, I’ve been there. I know what you mean.’ and I knew this is what I wanted to do,” Nye said.
Barakat said she wrote her first poem when she was being dressed by her mother and said, “Can I wear my home like a jacket? I don’t want to lose my home again.”
Nye said she felt a need for poetry early on. Barakat said Arab culture is entirely poetic; when a mother rocks her baby or when two people fight, there is poetry.
“I don’t know of anything that defines Arabs more than poetry,” Barakat said.
The Neustadt International Prize for Literature is a biennial award that was established in 1969. It is the first international literary award of this scope to originate in the United States and is one of the few international prizes for which poets, novelists and playwrights are equally eligible.
The NSK Neustadt Prize for Children’s Literature, given to Nye, is a new award intended to enhance the quality of children’s literature.
The Neustadt Festival will conclude today with Middle Eastern music and Barakat speaking on Palestinian culture from 10 to 11 a.m., followed by the NSK keynote address by Nye from 11 a.m. to noon at Meacham Auditorium in the OK Memorial Union. Lastly, a storytelling performance with fiction writer Gabriella Ghermandi will take place from 3 to 4 p.m. today at the Reynolds Performing Arts Center.
For more information, visit neustadtprize.org.