Joy Harjo is the current Poet Laureate of the United States, whose tenure began on June 19, 2019, and is the first Native American to hold this position. Last year she was elected to a third term by Carla Hayden, Librarian of Congress. Harjo began her first year with a poetry reading and concert. Never one to regard unexpected events as anything other than a part of the cycle of life, the pandemic fired up Harjo's exceptional resilience, versatility and creativity. She was featured in the Washington Post and the Library Congress, in The Poetry of Home, where Harjo and four other Poet Laureates of the United States explored what home means during the pandemic. She is multi-talented (poet, writer, playwright, teacher, artist, musician) prolific, inventive, and a forthright spokesperson for poetry, the arts and freedom of expression in all forms.
In her autobiography she recounts the personal and artistic challenges she has lived through. Of mixed-race ancestry, she chose to identify with the Muscogee (Creek) Nation (self-referencing as Este Mvskokvlke), and chose the name Harjo to honor her grandmother. She has experienced and witnessed physical abuse in her immediate family and in relationships, self-doubt, alcoholism, suicide, and the displacement and devaluation of Native Americans. She reflects on past choices when her inner being was saying one thing and her actions took her somewhere else; her desire to be an artist, which began at a very early age; raising children on her own while working and learning as a visual artist. The inspiration and fortitude came from her matriarchal lineage. "In the Mvskoke world women are accepted as painters, artists. To make art (whether it be painting, drawing, songs, stories--any art) is to replicate the purpose of original creation." Both her Aunt Lois Harjo and her grandmother, Naomi Harjo Foster, were painters. At at time when Joy Harjo was near suicide is when poetry approached her, "You need to learn how to listen, you need grace, you need to learn how to speak." Through her journey of awakening, she has divined and connected to her place on earth, which is a path of red earth, the color of blood, that spans from Georgia to O'ahu. " ... it needs to be fed with songs, poems; it needs to be remembered ... This earth asks for so little from us human beings." Through her life's path, she fully realized that the connection to her heritage is implicit to her very being. Harjo's poetry is on a grand scale: personal, historical, modern, lyrical, spiritual and more often than not, full of joyful reverence for life and art, "What amazed me at the beginning and still amazes me about the creative process is that even as we are dying something always wants to be born."
[All quotations are from the Introduction to Joy Harjo's How We Became Human : new and selected poems.]
The Los Angeles Public Library owns many of her poetry books which can be found here. In 2012 she was interviewed for an ALOUD program and readers can listen to the podcast. I encourage everyone to look at the LC Poet Laureate for more information about Joy Harjo and her programs and plans as Poet Laureate of the United States. I urge all of you to explore and use our national library, The Library of Congress, which provides a monumental array of free information for everyone.