NACF Board Member Joy Harjo Named U.S. Poet Laureate

Poet Laureate of the United States Joy Harjo, June 6, 2019. Photo by Shawn Miller.

“What a tremendous honor it is to be named the U.S. Poet Laureate. I share this honor with ancestors and teachers who inspired in me a love of poetry, who taught that words are powerful and can make change when understanding appears impossible, and how time and timelessness can live together within a poem. I count among these ancestors and teachers my Muscogee Creek people, the librarians who opened so many doors for all of us, and the original poets of the indigenous tribal nations of these lands, who were joined by diverse peoples from nations all over the world to make this country and this country’s poetry.”

~ Joy Harjo (Mvskoke Nation), U.S. Poet Laureate and NACF Board Member

The Native Arts and Cultures Foundation (NACF) is proud and overjoyed to congratulate board member Joy Harjo (Mvskoke Nation) who was announced on June 19, 2019 as the nation’s 23rd Poet Laureate. Joy is the first Native American poet to hold this position since it was created in 1937, and will serve as the Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry for 2019-2020.

The announcement was made by Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden. “Joy Harjo has championed the art of poetry – ‘soul talk’ as she calls it – for over four decades,” Hayden said. “To her, poems are ‘carriers of dreams, knowledge and wisdom,’ and through them she tells an American story of tradition and loss, reckoning and myth-making. Her work powerfully connects us to the earth and the spiritual world with direct, inventive lyricism that helps us reimagine who we are.”

Joy is one of NACF’s founding board members and rejoined the organization’s board of directors in 2017. She was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, is a member of the Mvskoke Nation, and belongs to Hickory Ground ceremonial ground. She left home to attend high school at the innovative Institute of American Indian Arts, which was then a Bureau of Indian Affairs school.

Joy began writing poetry as a member of the University of New Mexico’s Native student organization, the Kiva Club, in response to Native empowerment movements. She has written eight books of poetry, including her most recent, “Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings”. Her newest collection is forthcoming from Norton in the fall of 2019, An American Sunrise.

In 2019, Joy was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. Among the many literary awards Joy has received are the PEN Open Book Award, the American Indian Distinguished Achievement in the Arts Award, the New Mexico Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts and the Arrell Gibson Lifetime Achievement Award from the Oklahoma Center for the Book. She has also received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Witter Bynner Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Her collection “How We Become Human: New and Selected Poems 1975-2001” (W. W. Norton, 2002) was selected by the National Endowment for the Arts for its Big Read program. Her recent honors include the Jackson Prize from Poets & Writers (2019), the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize from the Poetry Foundation (2017) and the Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American Poets (2015).

Joy also holds the John C. Hodges Chair of Excellence at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, where she taught until recently before returning to live in Oklahoma, her home community.

Congratulations, Joy!