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June 21, 2019
(U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo, Photo courtesy of Shawn Miller.)

For Immediate Release
June 21, 2019

Muscogee (Creek) citizen Joy Harjo named US Poet Laureate

OKMULGEE, Okla. — Poet, musician and Muscogee (Creek) citizen becomes the first Native American to be named the U.S. Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry for 2019-2020 by the Library of Congress.

The poet laureate is an annual appointment with each term running September to May. The position of poet laureate seeks to bring a larger appreciation to poetry nationally.

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

Harjo said it is a surprise and an honor, which she shares with her Muscogee (Creek) ancestors.

“What excites me most is it honors our people, in particular, it honors the Muscogee people. It is a great honor and I wouldn’t be here without my people,” Harjo said.

Harjo gives back to the Native community by mentoring youth to express themselves through the arts.

“We have so many stories and I have seen such creative talent within our community. I have been working with the youth with mentorships and mentoring our Muscogee (Creek) youth who want to pursue arts or even practice them,” Harjo said. “You do not have to be an ‘artist’ to enjoy writing poetry or making songs or any of that. That is something all of us can do. Poetry is how we talk to each other, soul to soul.”

Muscogee (Creek) Nation Principal Chief James Floyd said the appointment of a Native American to poet laureate shows the influences of Native people and Harjo’s accomplishments.

“It is a recognition of the uniqueness and strength of our culture, as Indian people, particularly Muscogee People. For Joy, I think it speaks to her long Chief Floyd went onto say he believes Harjo being appointed is a positive message.

“As a message to all Indian people, it shows that one of the most prestigious and recognizable positions in the United States can be held by a woman, as well as a Native American,” Chief Floyd said.

Harjo, a resident of Tulsa, Okla., is the author of eight poetry books. She plays saxophone with her current band, Arrow Dynamics Band and she has appeared on the HBO television series “Def Poetry Jam.”

Harjo has won many awards both for her music and her poetry including: Native American Music Award (NAMMY) Best Female Artist of the Year, the American Indian Distinguished Achievement in the Arts Award, the Arrell Gibson Lifetime Achievement Award from the Oklahoma Center for the Book and others.

Harjo is the 23rd poet laureate since the position was created in 1936. Harjo assume her duties by opening the Library of Congress annual literary season, Sept. 19, with a reading of her work at the Coolidge Auditorium at Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.


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