The Norman Transcript

November 2, 2013

Keynote speaker at Neustadt Festival urges students to read

By Katherine Parker
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Meacham Auditorium on the University of Oklahoma campus erupted in applause and excited chatter at the end of Naomi Shihab Nye’s keynote address Friday morning.

Norman Public Schools students from Longfellow Middle School quickly got in line to have copies of Nye’s books signed by the author herself. Nye was the 2013 NSK Neustadt Prize for Children’s Literature winner for her collections of poems, novel and books of essays for both young adults and adults.

The NSK Neustadt Prize for Children’s Literature is a new award intended to enhance the quality of children’s literature. The Prize was established by Nancy Barcelo, Susan Neustadt Schwartz and Kathy Neustadt. The essential criterion for this prize is that the winner’s work has a positive impact on children’s literature. The prize is intended to include all of literature written for children and could be given for work that is illustrated, juvenile, young adult, etc. There is no limitation to a particular age group or type of children’s literature.

Nye has written and edited 33 books and was nominated for the NSK Prize by fellow writer Ibtisam Barakat. Nye was born in Missouri and grew up in San Antonio, Texas. Nye’s father is Palestinian and her roots have guided some of her writing including, “Habibi,” which has been translated into five languages.

“It was a really inspiring talk. Especially when she said she writes everything down and that she lived a lot of what she writes,” Kristen Mcjunkins, an eighth-grader at Longfellow, said.

Longfellow students Meghan Bell and Rachel Farmer said they were really looking forward to reading more of Nye’s work and other students said they were ready to put pen to paper and come up with poems and stories of their own.

“She (Nye) made me feel like I could write about anything from my life,” Kristen Ngyen, an eighth-grader who is working on a greek mythology story, said.

Nye said, quoting Woody Guthrie, “I’d like to be known as the man that told you something you already knew,” and went on to explain that with her writing she seeks universal connectivity through common understanding from her readers.

OU students who participated in the Neustadt class, Danielle Sasser and Danielle Nagel, said reading cultural literature like Nye’s really opened their minds. And Trevian Smith, Longfellow eighth-grader, said he felt a connection to Nye.

“Thanks to her, I want to try and write again,” Smith said.

Nye said with her writing she hopes for a sense of meaningful contact and that she felt touched because she thought she had made that connection with Norman students and the whole city of Norman.

“The students were so enthusiastic and attentive. I’m quite proud of them,” Nye said. “...There really is a great spirit here in Norman. I want to thank the Neustadt family for such a wonderful experience.”

As the NSK Prize winner, Nye received a $25,000 juried award sponsored by OU and the magazine World Literature Today.