Joy Harjo, a citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, has been named Poet Laureate of the United States. Photo by Shawn Miller, Library of Congress

Library of Congress names Joy Harjo as first Native U.S. Poet Laureate

Joy Harjo, a citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, has been named the 23rd Poet Laureate of the United States.

Harjo, a poet and musician, is the first Native American to serve in the position. She is also the first U.S. Poet Laureate from Oklahoma.

“What a tremendous honor it is to be named the U.S. Poet Laureate,” Harjo said in a news release on Wednesday. “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," said Harjo, who lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Joy Harjo. Photo: Gage Skidmore

“Joy Harjo has championed the art of poetry – ‘soul talk’ as she calls it – for over four decades,” Librarian of Congress Carla 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.”

Harjo will begin serving her position on September 19. Her term coincides with the release of An American Sunrise, her forthcoming book.

The following is a brief question and answer session with the incoming Poet Laureate, provided by the U.S. Library Congress.

Question: What does it mean to be the U.S. Poet Laureate?

Joy Harjo: It is quite an honor to be carrying. I feel like it’s something that I am carrying and it’s not just me carrying the title; it has to do with my family, my people, this country—all of the poets, all the people—poetry belongs to everyone. It doesn’t just belong sitting on a shelf in a university, but poetry is June Jordan, you know, with her “poetry for the people.” I think about what happens, you know, what I will take with me when I leave this world and it’s poetry. We’ll take, certainly, our actions and how we are, but it’s the poetry, we can carry that with us. We can carry it with us when we walk around. At those moments that are the most terrifying, empowering, grief-filled, joy-filled, they’re always accompanied by poetry.

Q: What would you say to someone who asks “why is poetry important?”

Harjo: It would depend on who that person was, you know; it would depend. If I had time, I would find a poem that I would know that would either challenge, you know, or resonate or change—there’s always a poem out there that can change your life.

Q: What does being the first Native Poet Laureate mean?

Harjo: It’s never just about me. We all have poetry ancestors. We have—so when I write a poem—you can look at any poem and say, okay, this poem wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for, say, Whitman or Dickinson or for Muscogee—the Muscogee stomp dance music and a song by so and so. So I feel like I am here to—there’s not just me sitting here—there’s all the poets, ultimately, all the poets—past, present and future. It goes way, way back. I always said if we could really do kind of a DNA of poetry we’d find it all connected. And then with poetry, of course, you would go back to the origin story of probably almost every school of poetry we would wind up back with dance and music accompanying it. Because poetry ultimately, you know, nobody likes to be alone, even poetry.

Video by U.S. Library of Congress: Joy Harjo | U.S. Poet Laureate | Q&A

Video by U.S. Library of Congress: Joy Harjo | U.S. Poet Laureate | An American Sunrise

Read More on the Story
Tulsan Joy Harjo named U.S. Poet Laureate, making history with today's announcement (The Tulsa World June 19, 2019)
Tulsa's Joy Harjo Named U.S. Poet Laureate (Public Radio Tulsa June 19, 2019)
Joy Harjo Becomes The First Native American U.S. Poet Laureate (National Public Radio June 19, 2019)
United States' first Native American poet laureate is Joy Harjo (USA Today June 19, 2019)
Joy Harjo Is First Native American to Be Named U.S. Poet Laureate (The Associated Press June 19, 2019)
Joy Harjo appointed U.S. poet laureate, first Native American to hold the title (The Los Angeles Times June 19, 2019)
Joy Harjo Is Named US Poet Laureate (The New York Times June 19, 2019)
Native American writer Joy Harjo is the next U.S. Poet Laureate (The Washington Post June 19, 2019)

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