Joy Harjo Named Nation's 23rd Poet Laureate

by Elizabeth Pitts-Hibbard
Photo by Shawn Miller of the Library of Congress. Photo by Shawn Miller of the Library of Congress.

With the announcement from Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden on Wednesday, Joy Harjo became the 23rd Poet Laureate and the first Native American to serve in the position.

“What a tremendous honor it is to be named the US Poet Laureate,” said Harjo. “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 teacher 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, an enrolled member of the Muscogee Creek Nation, was born in Tulsa. She is the author of eight books of poetry including “In Mad Love and War,” which received an American Book Award and the Delmore Schwartz Memorial Award. Her next book, “An American Sunrise,” will be released in the fall. She has also written a children’s book, “The Good Luck Cat,” and a young adult book, “For a Girl Becoming.”

“Joy Harjo has championed the art of poetry – ‘soul talk’ as she calls it – for over four decades,” said Hayden. “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 has performed on HBO’s “Def Poetry Jam” and in person at venues across the US and internationally. She is also a musician and has released four CDs of original music, winning a Native American Music Award for Best Female Artist of the Year in 2009. She currently holds a Tulsa Artist Fellowship after leaving her last position as professor and chair of excellence at the University of Tennessee.

The Poet Laureate typically initiates projects that celebrate poetry and increase appreciation of reading and writing poetry in the nation, as well as broaden audiences for the art itself. Harjo’s duties will begin in the fall of 2019, when she will give a reading of her work to open the Library of Congress’s annual literary season on September 19.