Joy Harjo, a member of the Muskogee Creek nation, has become the United States' first Native American Poet Laureate. Announced today by Carla Hayden, Library of Congress librarian, the country's 23rd poet laureate succeeds Tracy K. Smith. Hayden, in a press release, said: “To [Harjo], 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 re-imagine who we are.”
Harjo, 68, will publish her next collection of poems An American Sunrise in Autumn 2019 with W. W. Norton. She is the author of eight books of poetry, in addition to her memoir Crazy Brave (2012), and two books aimed at young audiences. She has previously attained the PEN Open Book Award and the Wallace Stevens Award for lifetime achievement. Earlier this year, she was also awarded the Jackson Prize, awarded to poets who deserve more recognition.
"I'm still in a little bit of shock", says Harjo, now living in her birthplace of Tulsa, Oklahoma. “This kind of award honors the place of Native people in this country, the place of Native people’s poetry.
“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.”
US Poet Laureates have few official responsibilities, and many choose to start initiatives of their own, such as the most recent laureate Smith's tour of rural communities. On this Harjo has said: “I don’t have a defined project right now, but I want to bring the contribution of poetry of the tribal nations to the forefront and include it in the discussion of poetry.” As Poet Laureate, Harjo will open the Library of Congress' annual literary season in September, with a reading of her work.