Born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and part of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, Joy Harjo is the first Native American to be named United States Poet Laureate. For more than forty years, Harjo has been a major voice in Native American poetry, providing leadership and inspiration. She is considered a major figure in the second wave of the literary Native American Renaissance of the twentieth century. Her work speaks to the resilience of Native cultures and inspires others to express themselves through writing.
Harjo presented a reading November 9, 2019, at the Petro Theatre on the Montana State University Campus as she begins her 2019-2020 term as the 23rd Poet Laureate in the country.
The Writer's Voice, a Billings-based program dedicated to supporting contemporary literature and writers in the region, received a Big Read grant from the National Endowment of the Arts to present a month-long series of lectures art exhibits and book discussions based on Harjo’s book, How We Became Human: New and Selected Poems. Part of the NEA funding was used to bring Harjo to Billings as a part of Native American Heritage Month.
Harjo earned her BA from the University of New Mexico and MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Originally a painter, Harjo started writing when she was 23 years old and learned to play the saxophone later in life. Music and poetry have intermingled throughout her life; she has released four albums of original music and won a Native American music Award for Best Female Artist in 2009.
Joy began putting pen to paper when she became involved in the Native rights movement in the 1970s. As Harjo explains, “A lot of my poetry is inspired by injustice, love, the move for balance and compassion. This debris of historical trauma, family trauma . . . stuff that can kill your spirit is actually raw material to make things with and to build bridges over that which would destroy you.”
Harjo’s nine books of poetry include American Sunrise, Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings, How We Became Human: New and Selected Poems, and She Had Some Horses. Harjo’s memoir Crazy Brave won several awards, including the PEN USA Literary Award for Creative Non-Fiction and the American Book Award. She is the recipient of the 2017 Ruth Lilly Prize from the Poetry Foundation for Lifetime Achievement, the 2015 Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American Poets for proven mastery in the art of poetry; a Guggenheim Fellowship, the William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America, and the United States Artist Fellowship.