Poets

Search more than 3,000 biographies of contemporary and classic poets.

Joy Harjo

1951–

read poems by joy harjo

browse lesson plans featuring joy harjo's poems

read an interview with joy harjo

Joy Harjo was appointed the new United States poet laureate in June 2019, and is the first Native American Poet Laureate in the history of the position. Born in Tulsa, Oklahoma on May 9, 1951, Harjo is a member of the Mvskoke/Creek Nation and belongs to Oce Vpofv. She received a BA from the University of New Mexico before earning an MFA from the Iowa Writers Workshop in 1978.

Harjo is a poet, musician, and playwright. She is the author of several books of poetry, including An American Sunrise (W. W. Norton, 2019); The Woman Who Fell From the Sky (W. W. Norton, 1994), which received the Oklahoma Book Arts Award; and In Mad Love and War (Wesleyan University Press, 1990), which received an American Book Award and the Delmore Schwartz Memorial Award. Her memoir Crazy Brave (W. W. Norton, 2012) won the 2013 PEN Center USA literary award for creative nonfiction. Harjo has also published collections of interviews and conversations, children's books, and collaborative art texts. 

In 2015 she received the Wallace Stevens Award for proven mastery in the art of poetry from the Academy of American Poets. About Harjo, Chancellor Alicia Ostiker 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.  A Creek Indian and student of First Nation history, Harjo is rooted simultaneously in the natural world, in earth—especially the landscape of the American southwest—and in the spirit world. Aided by these redemptive forces of nature and spirit, incorporating native traditions of  prayer and myth into a powerfully contemporary idiom, her visionary justice-seeking art transforms personal and collective bitterness to beauty, fragmentation to wholeness, and trauma to healing.”

Also a performer, Harjo plays saxophone and flutes with the Arrow Dynamics Band and solo, and previously with the band Poetic Justice. She has appeared on HBO's Def Poetry Jam in venues across the U.S. and internationally and has released four award-winning albums. In 2009, she won a Native American Music Award (NAMMY) for Best Female Artist of the Year.

In 2015, Harjo gave The Blaney Lecture on contemporary poetry and poetics, which is offered annually in New York City by a prominent poet, called “Ancestors: A Mapping of Indigenous Poetry and Poets.” Her other honors include the 2019 Jackson Poetry Prize, the PEN Open Book Award, the American Indian Distinguished Achievement in the Arts Award, The Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, the Josephine Miles Poetry Award, the Mountains and Plains Booksellers Award, the New Mexico Governor's Award for Excellence in the Arts, the William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America, and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Native Writers Circle of the Americas. She has also received fellowships from the Arizona Commission on the Arts, the Witter Bynner Foundation, The Guggenheim Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

In 2019, Harjo was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. On this occasion, Academy Chancellor Marilyn Chin said “[Joy] is an iconic and beloved multi-genre artist. Her poetry, prose, and music have delighted, informed, and tantalized an international audience for over four decades. Her poetry displays a strong commitment to her social and political ideals as she fights tirelessly for Native American justice, ending violence against women, and a variety of important issues. Her masterful spiritual grace always shines through with compassion and forgiveness. Her poetry is a timeless gift to the world.”

In addition to serving as U.S. Poet Laureate, Harjo directs For Girls Becoming, an arts mentorship program for young Mvskoke women, and is a founding board member of the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation. She was the guest editor for Poem-a-Day in April 2020 and lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

 


Bibliography

Poetry
An American Sunrise (W. W. Norton, 2019)
Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings (W. W. Norton, 2015)
How We Became Human: New and Selected Poems (W. W. Norton, 2002)
A Map to the Next World: Poems (W. W. Norton, 2000)
The Woman Who Fell From the Sky (W. W. Norton, 1994)
In Mad Love and War (Wesleyan University Press, 1990)
Secrets from the Center of the World (University of Arizona Press, 1989)
She Had Some Horses (Thunder's Mouth Press, 1983; W. W. Norton, 2008)
What Moon Drove Me to This? (Reed Books, 1979)
The Last Song (Puerto del Sol Press, 1975)

Prose
Crazy Brave (W. W. Norton, 2012)
Soul Talk, Soul Language: Conversations with Joy Harjo (Wesleyan University Press, 2011)
For a Girl Becoming (Sun Tracks, 2009)
The Spiral of Memory: Interviews (Poets on Poetry) (University of Michigan Press, 1995)

Drama
Wings of Night Sky, Wings of Morning Light: A Play by Joy Harjo and a Circle of Responses (Wesleyan University Press, 2019)


Incredible Bridges: Poetry Creating Community, 2016

Poet Joy Harjo reads her poem “Remember” as part of “Incredible Bridges: Poets Creating Community.”

The Blaney Lecture, 2015: Ancestors: A Mapping of Indigenous Poetry and Poets

Read the full lecture

Interview and Reading with U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo

U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo reads her poem “An American Sunrise” and answers a few questions about her laureateship during her visit to the Academy offices on June 17, 2019. 

Read the full Q&A 

 

By This Poet

14

Anchorage

               for Audre Lorde

This city is made of stone, of blood, and fish.
There are Chugatch Mountains to the east
and whale and seal to the west.
It hasn't always been this way, because glaciers
who are ice ghosts create oceans, carve earth
and shape this city here, by the sound.
They swim backwards in time.

Once a storm of boiling earth cracked open
the streets, threw open the town.
It's quiet now, but underneath the concrete
is the cooking earth,
                                 and above that, air
which is another ocean, where spirits we can't see
are dancing                joking                   getting full
on roasted caribou, and the praying
goes on, extends out.

Nora and I go walking down 4th Avenue
and know it is all happening.
On a park bench we see someone's Athabascan
grandmother, folded up, smelling like 200 years
of blood and piss, her eyes closed against some
unimagined darkness, where she is buried in an ache
in which nothing makes
                                       sense.

We keep on breathing, walking, but softer now,
the clouds whirling in the air above us.
What can we say that would make us understand
better than we do already?
Except to speak of her home and claim her
as our own history, and know that our dreams
don't end here, two blocks away from the ocean
where our hearts still batter away at the muddy shore.

And I think of the 6th Avenue jail, of mostly Native
and Black men, where Henry told about being shot at
eight times outside a liquor store in L.A., but when
the car sped away he was surprised he was alive,
no bullet holes, man, and eight cartridges strewn
on the sidewalk
                        all around him.

Everyone laughed at the impossibility of it,
but also the truth. Because who would believe
the fantastic and terrible story of all of our survival
those who were never meant
                                                to survive?

For Calling the Spirit Back from Wandering the Earth in Its Human Feet

Put down that bag of potato chips, that white bread, that bottle of pop.

Turn off that cellphone, computer, and remote control.

Open the door, then close it behind you.

Take a breath offered by friendly winds. They travel the earth gathering essences of plants to clean.

Give it back with gratitude.

If you sing it will give your spirit lift to fly to the stars’ ears and back.

Acknowledge this earth who has cared for you since you were a dream planting itself precisely within your parents’ desire.

Let your moccasin feet take you to the encampment of the guardians who have known you before time, who will be there after time. They sit before the fire that has been there without time.

Let the earth stabilize your postcolonial insecure jitters.

Be respectful of the small insects, birds and animal people who accompany you.
Ask their forgiveness for the harm we humans have brought down upon them.

Don’t worry.
The heart knows the way though there may be high-rises, interstates, checkpoints, armed soldiers, massacres, wars, and those who will despise you because they despise themselves.

The journey might take you a few hours, a day, a year, a few years, a hundred, a thousand or even more.

Watch your mind. Without training it might run away and leave your heart for the immense human feast set by the thieves of time.

Do not hold regrets.

When you find your way to the circle, to the fire kept burning by the keepers of your soul, you will be welcomed.

You must clean yourself with cedar, sage, or other healing plant.

Cut the ties you have to failure and shame.

Let go the pain you are holding in your mind, your shoulders, your heart, all the way to your feet. Let go the pain of your ancestors to make way for those who are heading in our direction.

Ask for forgiveness.

Call upon the help of those who love you. These helpers take many forms: animal, element, bird, angel, saint, stone, or ancestor.

Call your spirit back. It may be caught in corners and creases of shame, judgment, and human abuse.

You must call in a way that your spirit will want to return.

Speak to it as you would to a beloved child.

Welcome your spirit back from its wandering. It may return in pieces, in tatters. Gather them together. They will be happy to be found after being lost for so long.

Your spirit will need to sleep awhile after it is bathed and given clean clothes.

Now you can have a party. Invite everyone you know who loves and supports you. Keep room for those who have no place else to go.

Make a giveaway, and remember, keep the speeches short.

Then, you must do this: help the next person find their way through the dark. 

For Keeps

Sun makes the day new.
Tiny green plants emerge from earth.
Birds are singing the sky into place.
There is nowhere else I want to be but here.
I lean into the rhythm of your heart to see where it will take us.
We gallop into a warm, southern wind.
I link my legs to yours and we ride together,
Toward the ancient encampment of our relatives.
Where have you been? they ask.
And what has taken you so long?
That night after eating, singing, and dancing
We lay together under the stars.
We know ourselves to be part of mystery.
It is unspeakable.
It is everlasting.
It is for keeps.

                              MARCH 4, 2013, CHAMPAIGN, ILLINOIS