Joy Harjo is Nation’s First Native American Poet Laureate

By N. Jamiyla Chisholm Jun 19, 2019

Joy Harjo, performer and author of eight books of poetry, was named the 23rd Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry for 2019-2020, Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden announced Wednesday (June 19). Harjo, a member of the Muscogee Creek Nation, is the first Native American poet to serve in the position, as well as the nation’s first poet laureate from Oklahoma.

“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,” Harjo said in a statement from the Library of Congress (LOC). “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, who will officially step into her new role this fall, will kick off the LOC’s annual literary season on September 19 with a reading of her work. And in August, she will publish a new book of poems, “An American Sunrise.”

“Joy Harjo has championed the art of poetry—‘soul talk’ as she calls it—for over four decades,” Hayden said in the statement. “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 is also the author of “Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings” (2015), Oklahoma Book Arts Award-winner “The Woman Who Fell From the Sky” (1994) and “In Mad Love and War” (1990), which won the American Book Award. In January, she was elected chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.