Author Naomi Shihab Nye Presents for In Celebration of Books

Author Naomi Shihab Nye Presents for In Celebration of Books
John Lewis, Naomi Shihab Nye and Kate Larrimore In Celebration of Books

John Lewis, Naomi Shihab Nye and Kate Larrimore.

On Tuesday, November 15, we welcomed author Naomi Shihab Nye, an award-winning Palestinian-American poet, writer, anthologist, and educator. After a keynote presentation, Ms. Nye met with several English classes to further discuss her books, her experiences, and life in general.

Introduction by John Lewis, Head of School

As it happens, in recent weeks, I’ve been reading a wonderful book called Papyrus: The Invention of Books in the Ancient World. Written by a Spanish author named Irene Vallejo, it tells the story of how the written word transitioned from one form of technology, clay tablets, to the original paper technology, papyrus, which when rolled into scrolls, revolutionized humanity’s capacity to document, transfer, and transmit knowledge. Papyrus “books” were light, flexible, and portable, and they spread ideas around the ancient world with extraordinary new speed. Papyrus scrolls were the ancient version of the internet–it’s not an exact analogy, of course–but hey, compared to lugging clay tablets around in one’s backpack–papyrus scrolls sped up the process of sharing written knowledge exponentially. 

As with all new technologies, these scrolls were controversial. Socrates worried that written scrolls would increase forgetfulness and weaken memory. Plato worried that too many new ideas would destroy public morality. Then, like now, these written works were seen as potentially dangerous objects, and the powerful sought to control, ban and destroy them. For flammability reasons that are self-evident, fire has always been the preferred method of destroying books, and Vallejo shares tragic stories of, and here’s a new word I learned while reading this book–bibliocausts–that immolated thousands of precious and unrecoverable ancient texts. The ancient Greek dramatist Aeschylus wrote 73 plays during his lifetime–only 7 of these now survive.

But my favorite passage in this book celebrates the book as a timeless form of technology, and I share it with you today because I think it captures perfectly why we host, twice a year, an event called In Celebration of Books. We don’t call it In celebration of Words…or Literature…or Ideas, but rather In Celebration of Books.

Vallejo writes: 
“The book has withstood the test of history, has proved it can go the distance. Each time we awake from the dream of our revolutions or the nightmare of our catastrophes, the book is still there. In the words of Umberto Eco, the book belongs to the same category as the spoon, the hammer, the wheel, or a pair of scissors. Once invented, these things cannot be surpassed. Of course, technology is dazzling and has the power to dethrone old monarchies. But all of us yearn for the things we’ve lost–photographs, archives, old jobs, memories–due to the speed with which they age and become obsolete. First it was songs on cassettes, movies recorded on VHS. The irony is that we can still read a manuscript patiently copied over ten centuries ago, but we can no longer watch a video or see the contents of a disc recorded in the last few years, unless we keep all our successive computers and recording equipment in rooms full of junk in our homes, like a museum of obsolescence.

Let’s not forget that the book has been our ally for centuries in a war that is absent from history textbooks. The struggle to preserve our most valuable creations: words, which are scarcely a puff of air; the stories we tell to give meaning to chaos and survive it; the true, false, always provisional knowledge we scratch across the hard rock of our ignorance.”

So, enjoy today, and it’s now my pleasure to welcome our ICB coordinator, Ms. Kate Larrimore, to introduce our author today, the great American poet, Naomi Shihab Nye.

Introduction by Kate Larrimore

Good morning - I’d like to start with a quote from the collection, Honeybee:

I am looking for the human who admits his flaws
Who shocks the adversary
By being kinder not stronger

Naomi Shihab Nye offers her readers an opportunity to reconsider the importance of empathy at a time when it has become so easy to forget that it is, at our core, a necessity. The internal narratives that she puts a vision to in her poetry reconnect her readers to the base of their identities, to the traits of kindness and compassion that we learned before we discovered power and fear, to the parts of ourselves that we so often put on the back burner. 

As she has so artfully said herself, “Poetry calls us to pause. There is so much we overlook, while the abundance around us continues to shimmer, on its own.” Nye magnifies the commonplace, as she writes about that which we take for granted and urges us to have a keener eye and more inviting arms to our world, ourselves, and each other.

She reminds us that love and community exists everywhere, hiding in plain sight. That not all is lost.  

Please join me in giving esteemed author Naomi Shihab Nye the warmest of Gunston welcomes.