Joy Harjo

United States Poet Laureate (2019-2022)
Winner of the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize
PEN USA Literary Award for Nonfiction

Readings &
Lecture Topics
  • We Were There When Jazz Was Invented
  • Soul Talk, Song Language
  • Women’s Empowerment
  • Indigenous Poetry & Native Literature
  • An Evening with Joy Harjo

Biography

“I turn and return to Harjo’s poetry for her breathtaking complex witness and for her world-remaking language.” —Adrienne Rich

“Defining the poet’s role as a ‘journey for truth, for justice,’ Harjo explores the role of the artist in society, the quest for love, the links among the arts, what constitutes family, and what it means to be human.” —Library Journal

“Harjo’s poetry is celebrated for its insightful attention to the spiritual and natural worlds. In lines that can be deceptively simple or strikingly complex, she often explores the persistence of myth in contemporary experience.” —The Washington Post

In 2019, Joy Harjo was appointed the 23rd United States Poet Laureate, the first Native American to hold the position. Born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Harjo is an internationally renowned performer and writer of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. She is the author of nine books of poetry, several plays and children’s books, and two memoirs.

Harjo’s poetry collections include An American Sunrise (W.W. Norton, 2019); Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings (2015)—shortlisted for the 2016 Griffin Poetry Prize and added to ALA’s 2016 Notable Books List, this book is hailed by Yusef Komunyakaa as “a marvelous instrument that veins through a dark lode of American history”; How We Became Human: New and Selected Poems; and She Had Some Horses.

Her first memoir Crazy Brave (W.W. Norton, 2012) won several awards including the PEN USA Literary Award for Creative Non-Fiction and the American Book Award. It was called by Ms Magazine, “The best kind of memoir, an unself-conscious mix of autobiography, spiritual rumination, cultural evaluation, history and political analysis told in simple but authoritative and deeply poetic prose.” Harjo’s second memoir Poet Warrior (W. W. Norton, 2021) invites us to travel along the heartaches, losses, and humble realizations of her “poet-warrior” road.

Harjo is executive editor of the anthology When the Light of the World was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through — A Norton Anthology of Native Nations Poetry and the editor of Living Nations, Living Words: An Anthology of First Peoples Poetry, the companion anthology to her signature Poet Laureate projectSoul Talk, Song Language (2011, Wesleyan) is a collection of Harjo’s essays and interviews.

She wrote the award-winning children’s book The Good Luck Cat (Harcourt), and in 2009 she published a young adult, coming-of-age-book, For A Girl Becoming, which won a Moonbeam Award and a Silver Medal from the Independent Publishers Awards.

Her many writing awards include the 2019 Jackson Prize from the Poetry Society of America, the Ruth Lilly Prize from the Poetry Foundation, the 2015 Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American Poets, and the William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America.

The Judges Citation of the Jackson Prize declares, “Harjo’s work speaks not only to the world we live in, but to the unseen world that moves through us, the thread that has connected us all from the start…. Harjo’s poems embody a rich physicality and movement; they begin in the ear and the eye, they go on to live and hum inside the body…. Throughout her luminous and substantial body of work, there is a sense of timelessness, of ongoingness, of history repeating; these are poems that hold us up to the truth and insist we pay attention.”

And on behalf of the judges of the Wallace Stevens Award, Alicia Ostriker said: “Throughout her extraordinary career as poet, storyteller, musician, memoirist, playwright and activist, Joy Harjo has worked to expand our American language, culture, and soul.”

As a musician and performer, Harjo has produced seven award-winning music albums including her newest, I Pray for My Enemies. Her album of traditional flute, Red Dreams, A Trail Beyond Tears and Winding Through the Milky Way, won a Native American Music Award (NAMMY) for Best Female Artist of the Year in 2009. She also performs her one-woman show, “Wings of Night Sky, Wings of Morning Light,” which premiered at the Wells Fargo Theater in Los Angeles in 2009 with other performances at the Public Theater in NYC and LaJolla Playhouse as part of the Native Voices at the Autry. She has a commission from the Public Theater of NY to write “We Were There When Jazz Was Invented” — a musical play that will restore southeastern natives to the American story of blues and jazz.

Harjo is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, the New Mexico Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts, the Rasmuson United States Artist Fellowship. She is a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, Board of Directors Chair of the Native Arts & Cultures Foundation, and holds a Tulsa Artist Fellowship. In 2014 she was inducted into the Oklahoma Writers Hall of Fame. She lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Short Bio

In 2019, Joy Harjo was appointed the 23rd United States Poet Laureate, the first Native American to hold the position and only the second person to serve three terms in the role. Harjo’s nine books of poetry include An American SunriseConflict Resolution for Holy Beings, How We Became Human: New and Selected Poems, and She Had Some Horses. She is also the author of two memoirs, Crazy Brave and Poet Warrior, which invites us to travel along the heartaches, losses, and humble realizations of her “poet-warrior” road. She has edited several anthologies of Native American writing including When the Light of the World was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through — A Norton Anthology of Native Nations Poetry, and Living Nations, Living Words, the companion anthology to her signature poet laureate projectHer many writing awards include the 2019 Jackson Prize from the Poetry Society of America, the Ruth Lilly Prize from the Poetry Foundation, the 2015 Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American Poets, and the William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America. She is a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, Board of Directors Chair of the Native Arts & Cultures Foundation, and holds a Tulsa Artist Fellowship. A renowned musician, Harjo performs with her saxophone nationally and internationally; her most recent album is I Pray For My Enemies. She lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

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