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Summertime is Laureate Time at the Library!

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Poet Laureate Joy Harjo looks over collection items in the Prints and Photographs Division with Katherine Blood and Melissa Lindberg, July 11, 2019. Photo by Shawn Miller.

This summer the Poetry and Literature Center has been busy with our poet laureate-to-be, Joy Harjo. In preparation for the Librarian of Congress’s June 19th official appointment announcement, Joy came to the LOC for the usual “laureate orientation”—a one-day visit aimed to give the new laureate a sense of the position and its relationship to the institution. This year, we added a second day to the orientation focused on the Library’s collections; Joy met with staff and leadership from the Library’s Collections and Services Group, then went on brief visits to a few of our reading rooms to meet curators and reference librarians as well as check out highlights of the collections.

The added day to Joy’s orientation was such a success that Joy scheduled a return trip to the Library before the start of her laureateship. She wanted to delve deeper into the collections, specifically to focus on items pertaining to Native peoples and cultures. Earlier this month, Joy spent a week in D.C. doing just that—and in the coming weeks on the blog, we will feature reports from the dedicated librarians and curators she met with in the Main Reading RoomGeography and Map DivisionManuscript Division, Prints and Photographs Division, and American Folklife Center. We at the PLC are thrilled that our new laureate will begin her term with such a strong connection to the Library and its treasures (both in the collections and on staff!), and we are eager to share that connection with you.

Joy’s return visit to the Library and the District also coincided with her appearance at the National Student Poets Appointment Ceremony on July 17th. The PLC has long been involved with the National Student Poets Program (NSPP), and as luck would have it, this year Joy was already scheduled as the ceremony’s featured poet before her laureateship announcement! Needless to say, the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers and the Institute of Museum and Library Services—the two sponsors of the NSPP—were over the moon when they heard our big news, and that their ceremonial event would be the first to feature Joy as the newly named laureate.

The Class of 2019 with U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo and Director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services Dr. Kathryn K. Matthew at the National Museum of the American Indian, July 17, 2019. Photo by Shannon Finney.

Hosted at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, the evening appointment ceremony featured readings by each of the five new National Student Poets. After a group of NSP alums performed and introduced her, Joy took to the stage to give introductory comments, saying to the new class, “You are at the beginning of a journey, the part of the journey in which you are actively defining yourself as a human being in this world, as part of your generation. That poetry accompanies you on this part of the journey means that you have a tool that can serve you, your family and community the rest of your life.” She then addressed each new poet individually and sang their praises. Everyone in the audience was wowed, including me! I’d seen Joy read and perform before, but that evening I saw just what she can do as laureate to celebrate and support the next generation of poets.

Joy’s visit to D.C. also included a first-of-its kind laureate meeting: with the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. On the afternoon of the 17th Joy went to a small meeting room in the U.S. Capitol, full of Congressional staffers. One by one, senators on the committee—including the Chairman and Vice Chairman, Sen. John Hoeven of North Dakota and Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico, as well as Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Sen. Tina Smith of Minnesota—entered, and Joy greeted them each in turn. She talked to each about past visits to their state, and with Sens. Jon Tester and Steve Daines of Montana she talked about upcoming visits as well. After the meeting, members of Sen. Udall’s staff stayed for an informal roundtable, which was special for Joy—she had spent many years in the Land of Enchantment.

Poet Laureate Joy Harjo with Senator Tom Udall during a visit with senators and staff of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, July 17, 2019. Photo by Shawn Miller.

With her National Student Poets Appointment Ceremony presentation and her Senate Committee visit, Joy easily demonstrated why she is such an inspiring appointment as poet laureate. In the weeks to come, you’ll also hear how she inspired librarians and curators in the Library—and learn more about the collections Joy had a chance to explore.