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First Native American U.S. Poet Laureate appointed to third term

U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo speaks at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki-Museum’s lecture series Nov. 22, 2019, in Big Cypress. (Beverly Bidney photo)

The first Native American U.S. Poet Laureate will serve a third consecutive term.

The Library of Congress announced Nov. 19 the appointment of Joy Harjo (Muscokee (Creek) Nation), who has already served two terms as U.S. Poet Laureate. The appointment makes Harjo the second laureate to receive this extension since terms for the position were established in 1943. She began her laureateship June 19, 2019.  She was a guest speaker at the Seminole Tribe’s Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki-Museum lecture series in November 2019.

The third term, which begins in September 2021, will allow Harjo time to complete projects and programs whose timelines have been impacted by Covid-19.

“Throughout the pandemic, Joy Harjo has shown how poetry can help steady us and nurture us. I am thankful she is willing to continue this work on behalf of the country,”  Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden said in a statement. “A third term will give Joy the opportunity to develop and extend her signature project.”

For her third term, Harjo will focus on her signature project, “Living Nations, Living Words,” which was launched as part of the Native American Heritage Month celebration in November at loc.gov/programs/poetry-and-literature/poet-laureate/poet-laureate-projects/living-nations-living-words/. The digital project features an interactive ArcGIS story map, developed with the Library’s Geography and Map Division, which maps 47 contemporary Native American poets across the country — including Harjo, Louise Erdrich, Natalie Diaz, Ray Young Bear, Craig Santos Perez, Sherwin Bitsui and Layli Long Soldier.

The map provides a connection to a new online audio collection developed by Harjo and housed in the Library’s American Folklife Center, which features the participating poets reading and discussing an original poem. Each chose their poems based on the theme of place and displacement, and with four focal points in mind: visibility, persistence, resistance and acknowledgment.

“This has been a challenging year for the country, for our earth. Poetry has provided doorways for joy, grief and understanding in the midst of turmoil and pandemic,” Harjo said in a statement. “I welcome the opportunity of a third term to activate my project and visit communities to share Native poetry. The story of America begins with Native presence, thoughts and words. Poetry is made of word threads that weave and connect us.”

Harjo was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on May 9, 1951. She is the author of nine books of poetry. Her memoir “Crazy Brave” won the 2013 PEN Center USA literary prize for creative nonfiction. She is also the author of a children’s book, “The Good Luck Cat,” and a young adult book, “For a Girl Becoming.” 

Harjo has recently released her co-edited anthology, “When the Light of the World Was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through: A Norton Anthology of Native Nations Poetry” (Norton).

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