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The Green Room brings compelling speakers to Maui

By BY CINDY SCHUMACHER - | Jan 15, 2015

The formidable Naomi Shihab Nye, an award-winning Palestinian American poet, writer, anthologist and educator, moved the audience at the McCoy Theater to both laughter and reflection. PHOTO BY PAUL SCHUMACHER.

KAHULUI – The Green Room presents renowned writer, conservationist and naturalist Terry Tempest Williams on Monday, Jan. 19, at 7 p.m. in the Maui Arts & Cultural Center’s McCoy Studio Theater

An award-winning author of books such as “Refuge” and “Finding Beauty in a Broken World,” Williams has testified before Congress about women’s health and free speech issues, camped in remote areas of Alaska, Utah and Africa, and employed her passionate and lyrical prose in service to conservation and wildness.

Currently a scholar at the University of Utah, her writing has also appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, Orion Magazine, and numerous anthologies worldwide as a crucial voice for ecological consciousness and social change.

The event includes a reception afterwards with book signing, live music and pupus.

“Terry Tempest Williams has half-broken my heart with everything she has written,” noted Bill McKibben.

W.S. Merwin and wife Paula lovingly planted over 800 species of palms on 19 acres of once-barren land. Their hope is that the land will eventually become a palm sanctuary. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE MERWIN CONSERVANCY.

Generously sponsored by FIM Group, all ticket sales benefit The Merwin Conservancy. Tickets are $35; call 242-SHOW.

On Friday evening, Sept. 26, Guggenheim Fellow, Academy of American Poets’ Lavan Award recipient and four-time Pushcart Prize winner Naomi Shihab Nye held a talk-story and poetry reading session at the MACC’s McCoy Studio Theater. Third in the Merwin Conservancy’s Green Room Series, Nye’s performance was honest, spirited and unabashedly authentic.

Known as a crusader for peace and understanding, Nye told an enthusiastic audience of adults and students, “It is wonderful to come back to your sphere. I’m home. I belong here!”

A visiting writer during the 1991 fall semester at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, Nye said she was changed by the sea and sunset and was replenished by visiting the different islands.

“Hawaii is a place of love. Everything is more beautiful here,” she said, momentarily taken with a single exquisite Hawaiian flower that had fallen on the ground.

As a longtime admirer of Maui’s 2010 U.S. Poet Laureate W.S. Merwin (who sat front row center in the audience), Nye reflected on his work, their decade-long friendship, her devotion to his conservancy and the importance of the Green Room series.

“At 18 years old, I knew that Merwin’s voice could save us,” she said, adding her belief that writers provide important letters of support to humanity.

“W.S. Merwin is one of the most influential and honored poets in modern American history,” said Nye. She went on to note that he is the author of more than 50 books of poetry, translation and prose, a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry and recipient of the National Book Award, among numerous other awards, decorations and honors.

Nye elaborated about Merwin’s home on 19 acres of once-barren East Maui land that he and his wife, Paula, turned into one of the largest private collections of palm trees in the world, over 800 species. She explained that the Merwin Conservancy mirrors the cultural richness and sustainability practices so dear to both their hearts.

“Merwin’s texts often reflect nature and the ways of humankind,” said Nye, noting that the Green Room series, a literary salon, brings the conservancy’s values into a public venue.

With its launch in August 2013, the Green Room offers Maui residents and visitors alike an awakening and a radical new forum for arts, ideas and creative expression.

“There is a stunning assortment of innovative writers, poets, artists, botanists, environmentalists, musicians and others,” said Nye, adding that the events are sure to delight, provoke and awaken the senses.

Speaking of awakening the senses, it is said of Nye that she “breathed poetry from the days of her childhood like the rest of us breathe air. When she exhales the world becomes a better place to be in.”

“Nye’s incandescent humanity and voice can change the world,” said Jane Tanner in the Dictionary of Literary Biography.

In 1952, Nye was born to a Palestinian father and an American mother. During her high school years, she lived in Ramallah, the Old City in Jerusalem and in San Antonio, Texas, where she received her Bachelor of Arts Degree in English and World Religions from Trinity University.

“I began writing poetry at age six, exactly when I learned how to write,” she said, noting that her early works were based on childish things such as cats, squirrels, friends and teachers.

It wasn’t until Nye was 14 and visited her Palestinian grandmother that she observed the continuity among the entire world’s inhabitants.

“I absorbed many stories, impressions and perceptions of the differences in cultures as well as the similarities among people,” she said. “My book ‘Fuel’ is an example of reflections of my heritage, family and the power of humanity.”

As an award-winning Palestinian American poet, writer, anthologist and educator, Nye regards herself as a “wandering poet.”

Her first collection of poems, “Different Ways to Pray,” was based on her world travels. It explored the theme of comparison between traditions, which became one of her lifelong areas of focus.

Known for her fresh perspective on ordinary events, people and objects, Nye’s primary source of poetry has always been local life, random characters met on the streets and small essential tasks. These experiences have also been incorporated into her writing for children and young people, many of whom came to her performance at the MACC.

Following a lively question and answer session, Nye attended the book-signing reception that featured desserts, beverages and live music in the McCoy Courtyard.

For upcoming Merwin Conservancy events, visit the website at: www.merwinconservancy.org.