Self proclaimed wandering poet Naomi Shihab Nye was featured at the 49th May Hill Arbuthnot Lecture at the Performing Arts Center on Saturday.
Western, The Association for Library Services to Children and The Whatcom County Library System hosted the event.
The ALSC is a national organization dedicated to the enhancement of library services to children, and members are “innovators in the field of children’s library service,” according to their website.
The Arbuthnot Committee is selected annually. It’s two main objectives are to select an honor lecturer to present a paper significant to the field of children’s literature, and to select the location to host the presenter.
Nye has written poetry since the age of six, beginning with writing in the margins of her first grade papers, then submitting her poems to magazines by the age of seven.
“My main goal is to penetrate age barriers in readership,” Nye said. “They told me I’d have to submit 20 poems before [a magazine] would accept one, and I said, ‘that’s okay, I have 29.’”
Nye recounted her days of travel and close family ties while discussing the importance of books in the lives of children. She spends more time with children because she thinks they are the best people, Nye said.
“Talking about poetry a little more aloud with others stirs it into action, in even the most reluctant venue,” Nye said.
Elizabeth Bird, the chair for the 2018 May Hill Honor Lecture Committee, said when all applicants were in for the lecturer of the year, they had no doubts about selecting Nye when they saw her work.
Bird said this year was unique because they selected a poet, when the committee allows for any author, scholar, critic, historian or professor, as long as they are involved in children’s literature.
“The very act of describing [Nye] often becomes a work of art in and of itself,” Bird said. “In many ways her work with children is just as distinctive, influential and heady as her formal work with poems.”
Sophomore Emma Michel heard about the event through her women’s literature class and professor, Jeanne Yeasting.
Michel had listened to Yeasting lecture on Nye’s poetry and her impact on children and teens, and became interested in the impact of Nye’s work.
“[Nye] focuses on people telling their own story and having their voices heard,” Michel said. “She encourages children especially to speak for themselves.”
A sentiment that concluded Nye’s speech and brought the audience to their feet was, “How many times may our lives start because of books.”
The next Arbuthnot Honor Lecture will be in April 2019 and this lecture, along with past and future lectures, will be published in Children & Libraries, the journal of the Association for Library Services to Children.