Sometime between the time that my book was published in April and we moved to Mexico in July, Naomi Shihab Nye, outstanding poet and teacher, the Young People’s Poet Laureate, contacted me to ask if I would write a poem for an on-line publication called Dear Vaccine. She told me that writers from countries around the globe were going to write something addressing the subject of the vaccine, whatever that meant to them.
I was distracted and overwhelmed with our up-coming move, but I had to say yes to Naomi’s request because I wanted to be part of a project that connects us all globally about a subject that is deeply important to Everyone.
And I couldn't say no to my friend Naomi. It is because of her that many, many years and several books ago I started submitting my writing for publication. I met Naomi because I had read and loved her work, and found a connection between us that felt uncanny. Her feelings and thoughts were profound, eloquent but simply expressed, and revealed a deep concern and love for humanity. I called her, having tracked her down through her bio, and said ”Naomi, this is Julie Heifetz. You don’t know me, but I love you!” She was as warm and delightful on the phone as her words were on the page. Soon thereafter I wrangled an invitation for her to come to St Louis and give a few readings.
At dinner that night she asked, “Are you a writer?” “Yes,” I said. “But I just write for myself privately. I do it because I have to It’s the only way I know to work things out.” She nodded and asked to see what I wrote. The next morning I showed her a few of my poems. I was terrified, having never shared my work with a professional writer before. “”Why don’t you send these out for publication?” “Because I‘m afraid the rejection would stop me from writing. And what’s the point of going to all the trouble it would take to find a publisher?” “Don’t you know,” she asked, her eyebrows raised in surprise. “you publish because that’s the way you make friends. Friends who share their souls. It’s a different level of connecting. That’s why you do it!”
My gratitude to Naomi is enormous, all these 40 years or more later. so I submitted a quickly written piece to the on-line publication. Two months ago I got a message from Kent State University Press saying they were publishing a book of poems entitled Dear Vaccine from the on-line submissions and mine was one of those selected out of over 2000 entries from 119 countries. I didn’t remember one word of what I had written back before we left the States. But a few weeks ago my contributor’s copy of Dear Vaccine arrived. My piece at least didn’t embarrass me. And now I am writing to tell you, my friends, about the book, about Naomi. She was right. You who read and enjoy what I write are more than enough reward for what I do.