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Back by popular demand, San Antonio poet writes sequel novel

Naomi Shihab Nye and her grandson
Carol Jean Nahr
Naomi Shihab Nye and her grandson Connor James Nye

Known internationally and primarily for her poetry, a San Antonio writer has now penned a follow-up novel. Naomi Shihab Nye is very much of San Antonio, but she explained why she sees the world through international eyes.

“My own father was a Palestinian refugee, and so I have always wanted to present Palestine, Palestinians and in the larger Middle East as a beautiful place where people love their kids and love their dreams and have just as many hopes as Americans or anyone else does,” Nye said.

While having written more than two dozen books of poetry, in 2014 Nye wrote a novel for young people called The Turtle of Oman.

cover by Betsy Peterschmidt, publisher Greenwillow (HarperCollins)
cover of The Turtle of Oman

“It was about a boy in the country of Oman whose parents were getting ready to move him to the United States so they could go to graduate school,” she said. “And he was having a lot of trauma and worry about leaving the only place he'd ever known.”

After publishing the novel Nye was invited to Lenoire-Rhyne University in Hickory, North Carolina, for a project centered around her book.

“For many years they have had this initiative called Little Read, which is modeled on the Big Read that many people do with adults,” Nye said.

Hundreds of kids were bused to the university to meet Nye and ask her questions about her book.

“And they would really demand to know what happened to the boy next. Was he OK? What happened?” she said.

She hadn’t calculated the personal connection they developed with the story’s lead character, young Aref.

“So I actually pledged to them that I would write the sequel because they kept demanding that I would, and I wouldn't have done it without that sort of interest from the young readers,” Nye said.

Turtle of Michigan
cover by Betsy Peterschmidt, publisher Greenwillow (HarperCollins)
cover of Turtle of Michigan

She’s now come through with that promise, and available on March 15 is The Turtle of Michigan.

“So that's what the Turtle of Michigan really is about: the sequel. It's the finding-his-way story of an 8-year-old boy named Aref,” she said.
If you’re thinking this is sounding like a recurring character, she wants to disavow that.

“No, no, no, no. I'm going back to poetry!” Nye said.

A recent event has caused a refocus of her attentions.

“My mom died about three months ago, and it's been a way of recalibrating my gravity in the world, which so many of us go through and our beloved parents and grandparents take leave,” she said.

The Twig Book Store at the Pearl will have a book signing, and she will be there to read selections, on April 12.

Texas Public Radio is supported by contributors to the Arts & Culture News Desk including The Guillermo Nicolas & Jim Foster Art Fund, Patricia Pratchett, and the V.H. McNutt Memorial Foundation.

Jack Morgan can be reached at jack@tpr.org and on Twitter at @JackMorganii