New Year News from Joy Harjo

Joy Harjo with saxophone

Joy Harjo performs with her band during her poet laureate opening event at the Library of Congress, September 19, 2019. Photo by Shawn Miller/Library of Congress.

Joy Harjo is already halfway through her historic third term as U.S. poet laureate and, perhaps unsurprisingly, she is busier than ever. In the spring she dropped her newest album, I Pray for My Enemies, and earlier this fall she published her second memoir, Poet Warrior. Since then, she’s been “on the road” (physically and virtually), tirelessly and generously continuing her work to champion poetry, art, and Native voices. Here are just a few recent highlights:

“Poetry can make someone fall in love with you,” Joy Harjo says in the trailer for her new MasterClass on poetic thinking. “Poetry can make you fall in love with yourself.” The course, which launched earlier this month, “teaches you how to find the language to express yourself and approach your art with deeper meaning.” Participants of any level are welcome to join. As Joy puts it, “Poetry could open doors. Poetry could open eyes. It can take our grief and turn it into the depth, the muscle, the toughness you need to be able to climb.”

On a recent episode of the Poetry Magazine Podcast, host Suzi F. Garcia asks Joy if it’s “possible to be a poet without being a poet warrior”—to which Joy replies, “Maybe not! . . . I think it’s in the nature of being an artist.” The two engage in a wide-ranging conversation about Joy’s poetic beginnings (which were rooted in music), her friendship with Audre Lorde, and Joy’s new memoir (Poet Warrior) and album (I Pray for My Enemies). She also chats about her signature project as poet laureate, “Living Nations, Living Words,” explaining that she “had all kinds of project ideas, but it came down to this map-making. Of course,” Joy says, “I think with poetry that I’m making a map of the soul.”

Earlier this fall, Joy was awarded the Oklahoma Cultural Treasure Award for her work in the arts. “The arts have taught me compassion . . . and the arts are how we know ourselves. It’s how we imagine ourselves into the future, even as we connect up with the past,” she said during her acceptance speech at the Oklahoma Governor’s Arts Awards. “As an Oklahoma cultural treasure, I will continue to uphold this fierce belief and love for our arts and for our people.”

In December, Joy was featured in the cover story of Diversity in Action, which celebrates her lifelong advocacy for Native Americans. About her appointment and charge as the first Native American U.S. poet laureate, she says, “Here we are, we are present and at the table, and we are seen. . . . We’re all over the country, and we are thriving. We are not some sad story, nor have we disappeared into the sunset. But we are the root of America. Our present and ways of being are really part of the root story of what is America.”

And just last week, Joy was named the first artist-in-residence for the new Bob Dylan Center in Tulsa, which will open this May. During her six-year tenure in the post, Joy will present live performances and educational programs, as well as curate special exhibitions at the center. “When Bob Dylan stepped forward and made his path of song-making, poetry and storytelling—a path that lit a generation—he opened a creative door for others to find their way to fresh invention and imagining,” Joy said. “I am one of those who followed. My residency will allow this legacy to be extended to the community, to encourage and share creativity. I am honored to be part of this new venture.”

Of course, that’s just a sampling of Joy’s goings-on these days. You can keep up with all things Joy Harjo via her Library of Congress resource guide. And, if you haven’t already, take some time to explore her signature laureate project, “Living Nations, Living Words,” and all it has to offer—including its companion print anthology and recently launched guide for educators.

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