|photo: Shawn Miller/Library of Congress
Joy Harjo has been named the 23nd U.S. poet laureate by Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden. An enrolled member of the Muscogee Creek Nation, Harjo is the first Native American poet to serve in the position. She succeeds two-term laureate Tracy K. Smith, and will begin her year-long term with a public reading of her work at the library in September.
Hayden observed that Harjo "has championed the art of poetry--'soul talk' as she calls it--for over four decades. 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."
Calling her appointment "a tremendous honor," 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 has published eight books of poetry, including Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings; The Woman Who Fell From the Sky; and In Mad Love and War, which received an American Book Award and the Delmore Schwartz Memorial Award. Her next collection, An American Sunrise, will be published by Norton this fall. Harjo has also written a memoir, Crazy Brave; a children's book, The Good Luck Cat; and a YA work, For a Girl Becoming.
Her many literary honors include the PEN Open Book Award, the American Indian Distinguished Achievement in the Arts Award, the New Mexico Governor's Award for Excellence in the Arts and the Arrell Gibson Lifetime Achievement Award from the Oklahoma Center for the Book. Recent honors include the Jackson Prize from Poets & Writers, the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize from the Poetry Foundation and the Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American Poets. Earlier this year, she was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.
Harjo told the New York Times that during her time as poet laureate she hopes "to remind people that poetry belongs to everyone" and it can draw from a range of human and natural experiences, "sunrise, sunset, eating, enjoying company, births, death, all of it."
As a musician who has released four albums, she also wants to highlight the connections between poetry and music and dance, as well as address current social and political divides: "Just as when I started writing poetry, we're at a very crucial time in American history and in planetary history," Harjo said. "Poetry is a way to bridge, to make bridges from one country to another, one person to another, one time to another."
This brief video features an interview with Harjo in the Poetry Room during her laureate orientation.