Poet Laureate Joy Harjo Gets a Third Term; Launches “Living Nations, Living Words”

The following post was written by Rob Casper and Anne Holmes and originally appeared in From the Catbird Seat: Poetry & Literature at the Library of Congress.

It’s a celebratory time for Joy Harjo: the Librarian of Congress has just appointed our poet laureate to serve a third term in the position. Joy is only the second poet in the history of the laureateship to do so, and with this third term (to begin in September 2021) she will hopefully be able to return to traveling across the country to read her work and champion poetry.

Today also marks the launch of Joy’s signature project, “Living Nations, Living Words,” which features 47 contemporary Native poets through a new Story Map and online audio collection.

“Throughout the pandemic, Joy Harjo has shown how poetry can help steady us and nurture us. I am thankful she is willing to continue this work on behalf of the country,” said Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden. “A third term will give Joy the opportunity to develop and extend her signature project.”

When Joy first accepted the position in April 2019, she talked about wanting to create an online map of living Native poets. We were excited about the possibility, and started exploring options. Then, in the summer months leading up to the start of her laureateship, Joy had the opportunity to visit the Library and meet staff from across the institution. Fortuitously, she soon met with staff in the Geography and Map Division, who introduced her to the perfect platform: ArcGIS StoryMaps, an online app geared toward storytelling that the Library uses as an immersive learning tool.

As Joy explored the platform and talked about the possibilities for her project, it became clear that she not only wanted to feature a number of Native poets, but wanted to hear from them, too, reading and discussing their work. She felt strongly that these poets should choose their own poems, while keeping in mind the theme of place and displacement, and the following touchpoints: visibility, persistence, resistance and acknowledgment.

Joy had also spent time the previous summer exploring collections in the Library’s American Folklife Center. When we started discussing the possibility of building a new collection featuring the poems and voices of Native poets, AFC seemed like the perfect home. This new collection was a first for the laureateship, and we’re delighted that it features poets such as Louise Erdrich, Natalie Diaz, Ray Young Bear, Craig Santos Perez, Sherwin Bitsui and Layli Long Soldier. The accompanying commentary by the participating poets added ethnographic value to their recordings—a key component of AFC collections.

Map of 47 Native American poets from "Living Nations, Living Words: A Map of First Peoples Poetry" Map of 47 Native American poets from “Living Nations, Living Words: A Map of First Peoples Poetry”

In the months that followed, we worked and dreamed with Joy and our colleagues in these two divisions to bring “Living Nations, Living Words” to life. In June, we began inviting poets to contribute their poems and voices to the project. In October, we began building the map that Joy first envisioned.

Today, we invite you to dive in and explore all that “Living Nations, Living Words” has to offer. As Joy writes in the introduction, “There are connections between all of the poets in ‘Living Nations, Living Words’—and connecting influences between these poets and many, many other Native poets who do not appear here, and many, many American and world poets from the present and generations before. As you explore, you too will be connected.”

Celebrate Native American Heritage Month with the Annual Young Readers Center Puppet Show (the Day After Thanksgiving!)

The Young Readers Center is excited to invite you to see the annual Puppet Show on the day after Thanksgiving on November 29, 2019. This year we are sharing Native American Folktales, with stories and poems from nations such as Cree, Seneca, Winnebago, and Navajo.

Native Americans in the First World War and the Fight for Citizenship

While searching through our collections for maps to use for display in the exhibition Echoes of the Great War: American Experiences of World War I, I found one among our uncatalogued holdings that caught my attention. As the title states, it is a map presenting the role of North American Indians in the World War.