Poetry Invasion: Naomi Shihab Nye Visits ASIJ

“For me, writing is not a career; it’s a devotion, an obsession.” -Naomi Shihab Nye

Naomi Shihab Nye, award-winning poet and author, visited campus for a week of presentations and workshops with elementary, middle and high school students from January 25-29.


Naomi has published three novels and over ten books of poetry in addition to her short stores and her roles as editor. She has won multiple literary awards including four Pushcart Prizes, the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award and was named laureate of the 2013 NSK Neustadt Prize for Children’s Literature.

In order to build excitement prior to Naomi’s arrival, the middle and high schools celebrated poetry with a surprise poetry invasion: Spanish, Japanese, Chinese and English poems were scattered on walls, classroom doors and even in washrooms. Students also took part in book spine poetry, during which they artfully crafted poems using only the words available on the spines of books, and monster poetry activities, creating poetry from a limited number of words on cards. The high school hosted a poetry slam on January 19, welcoming several middle school participants, and hype-week concluded with the Naomi Shihab Nye Scavenger Hunt. 

During the week of her visit, Naomi wove her own experiences, poems and stories through the lives of our students, faculty and parents. Students from grades five, seven, eight, nine and ten attended her poetry workshops and large group presentations. She also presented to interested parents and offered additional workshops for faculty. Naomi not only presented, but wrote poems with all who attended and, with a generous heart, listened as we shared our poems with her.


The week ended with a “Meet the Author” party, attended by parents, teachers, middle school and high school students. Everyone ate, conversed and shared their poetry.

Naomi left us with a positive note, stating “I found ASIJ students to be highly proficient and competent in their writing skills—jumping into suggestions and ‘writing invitations’ quite instantly and with great focus, no restlessness (very impressive in today’s world)—and taking them their very own directions—but even more importantly, I felt their work to be unusually and originally creative, imaginative, sophisticated and authentically touching. They used all sorts of strategies and tactics and writing elements to create deeply moving and meaningful texts.”

We would like to thank the Chofu PTA for sponsoring Naomi Shihab Nye’s visit and also the Friends of the Library for providing refreshments for the “Meet the Author”Party. (Linda Hayakawa, Head Librarian, Tamara Pretz, ES Librarian and Tanja Kerbs, MS Librarian )

Tanja Kerbs wrote the following tribute to the visit, using words and phrases ”borrowed” from Naomi Shihab Nye’s Poetry Writing Workshop.

Fragments of Naomi

love pencils and
carry them with you
become obsessed
with a word

keep a notebook
be observant
observe deeply, listen acutely
be aware
there is a lot happening all of the time

When I write, I see more.
Every street is more alive.

pay attention
to other people’s words
pay attention
to the corners of conversations
be present
listen to the moment you’re in
be persistent
in everything you do

write regularly
exercise your language power
7 minutes
10 minutes
a day
that little slip of time
can serve you so well

start with a single word
and let it expand
trouble is a place to begin

the more you write,
the more instinctual writing becomes
you will hear that organic click

the more you write
the more words are available to you
if you’re waiting for big ideas
you could be silent forever

live a big life
wide and deep
sense the wealth
of your own experience
write a moment
so someone else can participate in it

I’ve never found a place
where poetry doesn’t live