Joy Harjo, the United States’ first Native American poet laureate, in the Library of Congress on June 6. – Shawn Miller / Library of Congress via AP
You may not see a lot of fanfare if we compare this celebration to many of the award shows we see televised, but it is certainly an honor that has been a long, long time coming. Joy Harjo was recently named as the first Native American poet to become U.S. Poet Laureate. Quite frankly I am absolutely flabbergasted that given the history of the original citizens of this country, and since the 1937 inception of Poet Laureate, (formerly known as the Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress), Joy Harjo is the first of numerous Native American writers and bards to be awarded this prestigious honor in poetry.
Joy Harjo was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma and is a member of the Mvskoke Nation. She took her paternal grandmother’s surname when she enrolled in the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. Harjo is an important figure in the second wave of the literary Native American Renaissance of the late twentieth century. She studied at the Institute of American Indian Arts and completed her undergraduate degree at the University of New Mexico in 1976. Later, she earned an M.F.A. at the University of Iowa in its Creative Writing Program.
She is an accomplished poet, musician, and author. In an interview with NPR, Harjo stated: “It’s such an honoring for Native people in this country, when we’ve been so disappeared and disregarded,” Harjo says. “And yet we’re the root cultures, over 500-something tribes and I don’t know how many at first contact. But it’s quite an honor … I bear that honor on behalf of the people and my ancestors. So that’s really exciting for me.”
Image Source: American Program Bureau
Since the 1970s, throughout each decade since then she has been awarded countlessly distinguished achievements in literature, the arts, and creative writing fellowships. Harjo has written and spoken about US political and Native American affairs. Her poetry explores imperialism and colonization, and their effects on violence against women and her works are often set in the Southwest, as she writes about individual struggle.
Harjo is the author of eight books of poetry so be sure to check out her collections of poetry to add to your bookshelf. CONGRATULATIONS Joy Harjo, our 2019 Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress!