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Celebrating Joy’s Poet Laureate Term to Come

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Joy Harjo takes the stage for her opening performance as the 23rd Poet Laureate, September 19, 2019. Photo by Shawn Miller/Library of Congress.

Today, on the last day of National Poetry Month, we are thrilled to report that the Librarian of Congress has appointed Joy Harjo for a second term as the U.S. Poet Laureate. Today’s announcement of the appointment also gives a few details of Joy’s signature project, “Living Nations, Living Words: A Map of First Peoples Poetry,” to be launched this fall. And we’ve updated Joy’s online LibGuide with her digital events, including our virtual event with the Association of Writers & Writing Programs on Friday, May 8, at 5 PM—hope you can tune in!

In her first term Joy gave incredible readings and performances across the country—including her opening event in the Library’s Coolidge Auditorium last September. It really was one of the most moving events I’ve ever seen—not least because my mother and stepfather were sitting in front of me! They both also came to my other event with Joy last fall, at the Miami Book Fair—and it made sense to have them there. With Joy, it’s really a family affair. All those I know who’ve worked with Joy speak of her with love, as they describe her great efforts to promote poets and poetry.

Joy’s signature project will showcase Native poets from across the country online, using a web mapping application called ARCGIS StoryMaps, which the Geography and Maps Division has helped the Library use to great effect. And in addition to a map of contemporary Native poets created through this application, the project will also launch a new collection featuring the poets, in the American Folklife Center—the first time we’ve done such work with a laureate. It’s thrilling, and challenging, which brings me to a story I’d like to tell today.

We’ve been working on Joy’s project since nearly the start of her laureateship, and it has gone through all sorts of versions. At a key moment this past February, Joy traveled to D.C. to look at a proof of concept and talk through the direction of her StoryMap draft, as well as to get feedback from curators/reference librarians working on the project. Because of Joy’s schedule, we had to sandwich in the visit between other events—including a reading at Hollins University the night before. She’d had a sleepless night and a long journey by train from Roanoke to the capital, and we had to whisk her to lunch and meetings pretty much right away.

Before the day’s work started, we had brief moment in my office, and that’s when Joy surprised me. To wake herself up, she asked if I could put on some dance music. I clicked to Patrice Rushen’s “Haven’t You Heard” and turned it up as loud as was allowable, and the U.S. Poet Laureate and I got to dancing. It was the kind of thing one does with family or friends—I felt like we were teens at home preparing to go to the school dance—and it was crazy and fun and absolutely perfect. We danced again, too, between meetings, and one of the reference librarians came in and did a few impressive moves as well! And that energy helped carry us through the day.

So, on this big day in this incredibly difficult and scary time, we say to you: with her dancing on the page and on screen, and by helping us get to the work we need to do, our dear Poet Laureate will get us through. She is our family, and we are hers—and in the year to come she will connect us to a larger family of poets, whose work will surely nourish and sustain us.