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2020 National Book Festival Highlights: Joy Harjo

Welcome to our ongoing celebration of the 2020 Library of Congress National Book Festival! If you love storytelling or are simply curious about the world, you’ve landed in the right place. As a way into this vast — and vastly fascinating — festival celebrating “American Ingenuity,” we offer here a string of highlights that truly illustrate the resilience, intelligence and wit of this year’s authors. Please enjoy, and make sure to explore our full National Book Festival video collection and special limited-time content on the Virtual Festival Platform.

The following post was written by Guy Lamolinara, communications officer in Literary Initiatives.

During Native American Heritage Month, it is especially appropriate to highlight the work of our current Poet Laureate, Joy Harjo, the first laureate of Native heritage.

Harjo begins her video, which she recorded exclusively for the 2020 National Book Festival, by prefacing a reading of her poem “Running.” She talks about how “we find ourselves sometimes in a poem … in a place that makes sense of something that didn’t make sense before.”

The 23rd person to hold the position, Harjo is a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. Her most recent poetry collection is “An American Sunrise” (Norton), from which she read “Running.” Her recent anthology is “When the Light of the World Was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through: A Norton Anthology of Native Nations Poetry” (Norton).

The power of stories and the tradition of storytelling are very important to Harjo, who believes that “we become all the parts. At some point we become all the stories.”

Harjo appeared on the Poetry & Prose virtual stage, which you can access from the Virtual Festival Platform (Go to “Stages” tab and select “Poetry & Prose.” Click on “Sessions” and select “Joy Harjo”). The National Endowment for the Arts is the longtime sponsor of the Poetry & Prose stage. You can learn more about the NEA from the “Partner Activities” tab on the platform. There you can discover the Poetry Out Loud competition for high school students, hear Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden in a conversation with NEA Chairman Mary Ann Carter, and hear Carter discuss the work her agency does to ensure that all Americans have access to the arts.

Videos from more than 120 fascinating authors are available on the platform’s various stages. From the Stages tab on the Virtual Festival Platform you can also view some of the presentations thematically, along the lines of “Democracy in the 21st Century,” “Hearing Black Voices” and “Fearless Women.” It’s a great way to hear how authors are addressing these topics through their works, both fact and fiction, while keeping in touch with current literature.

The 2020 Library of Congress National Book Festival celebrates its 20th birthday this year. You can get up-to-the-minute festival news, highlights, and other important information by subscribing to this blog. The festival is made possible by the generosity of sponsors. You can support the festival, too, by making a gift now.

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