The Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries, and Museums has presented one of its most significant awards to the Library and former U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo for “Living Nations, Living Words,” Harjo’s signature project during her 2019 to 2022 term.
Harjo, the first Native American to hold the nation’s poet laureate position, was honored with the ATALM’s Outstanding Project/Non-Native Organization Award for her work that shows the dynamic, living poetry being written and performed by Native Americans across the country. The project features 47 Native American poets through an interactive StoryMap and a newly developed Library audio collection. The map is marked by dots showing the home region of each Native poet and features their photo, biography and a link to hear them recite and talk about one of their works.
“I conceived the idea of mapping the U.S. with Native Nations poets and poems,” said Harjo, an enrolled member of the Muscogee Nation. “I want this map to counter damaging false assumptions — that Indigenous peoples of our country are often invisible or are not seen as human. You will not find us fairly represented, if at all, in the cultural storytelling of America, and nearly nonexistent in the American book of poetry.”
As part of the project, Harjo edited a companion anthology, also titled “Living Nations, Living Words,” published in 2021 by the W. W. Norton & Company in association with the Library. Harjo also edited “When the Light of the World Was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through: A Norton Anthology of Native Nations Poetry,” published by W. W. Norton & Company in 2020.
The ATALM presented the award during its October annual meeting, saying it “applauds Harjo’s work to illuminate the poetry of Native America and expresses its gratitude to the Library of Congress for a living tribute to a vibrant culture.”
Accepting the award alongside Harjo was Lori Pourier, president of the First Peoples Fund and member of the Board of Trustees for the Library’s American Folklife Center. Pourier (Oglala Lakota), an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, offered remarks on behalf of Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden.
The ATALM’s Guardians of Culture and Lifeways International Awards Program identifies and recognizes organizations and individuals that serve as outstanding examples of how Indigenous archives, libraries, museums and individuals contribute to the vitality and cultural sovereignty of Native Nations. The Guardian Award takes its name from the sculpture that stands atop the Oklahoma State Capitol — the work of Seminole Chief Kelly Haney.
For more information about the Poet Laureateship as well as other poetry and literature programs of the Library, visit the Poetry and Literature website.
About 30 years ago, I invited Joy Harjo to give a reading at Babson College in Massachusetts. Didn’t know much about her. Responded to a nudge. She was a big hit as poet, and when she pulled out the sax, the crowd went nuts. I’ve been so pleased at the way her life has progressed.