Native American named nation’s Poet Laureate

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 20, 2019

Library of Congress

Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden announced the appointment of Joy Harjo as the nation’s 23rd Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry for 2019-2020.

Harjo will take up her duties in the fall, opening the Library’s annual literary season on Sept. 19 with a reading of her work.

Harjo is the first Native American poet to serve in the position — she is an enrolled member of the Muscogee Creek Nation. She succeeds Tracy K. Smith, who served two terms as laureate.

“Joy Harjo has championed the art of poetry — ‘soul talk’ as she calls it — for over four decades,” Hayden said. “To her, poems are ‘carriers of dreams, knowledge and wisdom,’ and through them she tells an American story of tradition and loss, reckoning and myth-making. Her work powerfully connects us to the earth and the spiritual world with direct, inventive lyricism that helps us reimagine who we are.”

Harjo lives in her hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma, and is the nation’s first Poet Laureate from Oklahoma.

“What a tremendous honor it is to be named the U.S. Poet Laureate,” Harjo said. “I share this honor with ancestors and teachers who inspired in me a love of poetry, who taught that words are powerful and can make change when understanding appears impossible, and how time and timelessness can live together within a poem. I count among these ancestors and teachers my Muscogee Creek people, the librarians who opened so many doors for all of us, and the original poets of the indigenous tribal nations of these lands, who were joined by diverse peoples from nations all over the world to make this country and this country’s poetry.”

Harjo was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on May 9, 1951, and is the author of eight books of poetry – including “Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings,” “The Woman Who Fell From the Sky,” which received the Oklahoma Book Arts Award; and “In Mad Love and War,” which received an American Book Award and the Delmore Schwartz Memorial Award. Her next book of poems, “An American Sunrise,” will be published by W.W. Norton this fall 2019. Harjo has also written a memoir, “Crazy Brave,” which won the 2013 PEN Center USA literary prize for creative nonfiction, as well as a children’s book, “The Good Luck Cat” and a young adult book, “For a Girl Becoming.”

Harjo has taught at UCLA and was until recently a professor and chair of excellence at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. She has returned to her hometown where she holds a Tulsa Artist Fellowship.

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