Tulsan Joy Harjo completed a successful year as the U.S. Poet Laureate connecting and promoting indigenous artists.
We congratulate her on being named to a second term.
Harjo, a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, became the first Native American and first Oklahoman to serve as Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress when appointed last year.
Her time was spent working on an upcoming anthology of Native American poetry and creating an online map of biographies and recordings of Native American poets. Harjo plans to continue these projects and launch a new Library of Congress collection during her next term.
Past poets laureate include a who’s who of contemporary American poets, including Robert Penn Warren, Howard Nemerov, Billy Collins and W.S. Merwin. Before 1986, the post was known as consultant poet to the Library of Congress, and honorees included Robert Frost, William Carlos Williams and Conrad Aiken.
In her role, Harjo is an ambassador to the arts but also represents Tulsa, Oklahoma, her tribe and Native Americans.
This past year, Harjo was interviewed by Oprah Winfrey, presented Oklahoma actor Wes Studi with an honorary Oscar and gave lectures and readings across the country. She was also busy writing poetry.
Harjo’s pieces are rooted in her Muscogee (Creek) background and upbringing with an added feminist viewpoint. Her unique style blends poetry with other art forms including music, storytelling and performance.
She has written nine books of poetry, a memoir, children’s books and several plays. She is an award-winning musician, playing the saxophone and flute.
Notably, Harjo began her term by performing with her band at a reading at the Library of Congress, possibly a first for a U.S. Poet Laureate.
Through this responsibility, Harjo has remained a Tulsa resident and released the poetry collection “An American Sunrise,” which connects her experiences to the history of tribal removal and oppression.
Harjo told Tulsa World’s James Watts in December that she is often the first native poet people have encountered, prompting her to champion indigenous artists “to make sure people know that we are still here and that our voices are heard.”
We are proud of the important work Harjo is doing and look forward to what she will accomplish in the next year.
This was first published on May 8, and has been republished with permission from the Tulsa World.