Tools & Talismans #19 — Naomi Shihab Nye

One of the gifts of putting this Tools & Talismans project together has been contacting friends and peers to ask them to share their tools and their talismans along with some thoughts about them. I love being welcomed in to a different view of their work, getting to see them in a new way, and the stories behind the collections are pure magic.

One of the other gifts is the opportunity to contact women who I admire, and whose work has influenced me or moved me in some way. I’ve gotten a fabulous collection of “it’s a great idea but I'm busy with my own work and have to say NO” but I've gotten just as many YES’s that have surprised and delighted me. Naomi Shihab Nye is one of those YES’s.

I first came across Naomi’s writing in the mid 90’s through her book Red Suitcase, and have followed her ever since. She writes about the world, about her place in it, and about human connection and understanding.

For me, her work is about how we gather our tools and meet the world carrying our own experiences with us, while at the same time leaving space to hear someone else’s stories — not unlike what I wanted this project to be — so her enthusiastic Yes, was a gift to me and to this project.

I bought my little camel in the Abu Dhabi airport before flying to Saudi Arabia for a school job a few years ago. When you press his belly, he emits a very camel-like bray. I like camels because I have lived a wandering life and try to carry all I need in the little hump of a purple suitcase. He travels everywhere with me now and whenever I set him down on a doily on a hotel desk (the doily is another of my precious tools and traveling partners) it's easier to feel, I'm home!

The green cup was mailed to me by Flynn Berry, a brilliant young writer with her first novel coming out soon. The green seems encouraging.

It is always important to lay down a cloth. That is how one “stakes one's presence” — I did this in the approximately 1 million classrooms I have worked in in the last 41 years. The cloth changes.

My title? Writer. I always travel with a pencil sharpener and a pencil case, but not necessarily a lap-top. I like broken or short pencils — this one has a haiku by Issa, translated by Robert Hass on it available from Poets House.  Poets House is my favorite home-away-from-home in the universe — Battery Park, New York City.

As a child growing up first in Ferguson Mo. and then in Palestine, I was happy to have a habit — writing — that required the cheapest and most portable tool kit of all the arts.

Naomi Shihab Nye, poet and teacher


Tools & Talismans is a personal painting project where I’m documenting in watercolor the tools and talismans of 100 different women — creators and healers, thinkers and makers, wordsmiths and visionaries. Join me for a year of Tools & Talismans — I'll be sharing a new painting with you every Wednesday.

I also create commissioned illustrations for people just like you — contact me and we can talk about what you might need for your website, a book cover and etc.