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Poet Laureate: Joy Harjo

(This article was originally published in the April 2020 edition of Paper Jam)

Joy Harjo is a well-known author and worldwide performer. She was named the 23rd Poet Laureate of the United States in 2019. Harjo has produced eight books of poetry, a memoir, and many children’s books. Some poems include “An American Sunrise,” and “When the World as We Knew It Ended.” Crazy Brave is a memoir in which Harjo expresses her realization for English through the abuse of her stepfather. She uses a passive voice to demonstrate her imagination which connects her to the natural world. Immigration plays a big part in her life as she finds shelter in the idea of deep, spiritual life.

As Harjo was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the Trail of Tears led her journey to discover poetry and literary art. As a preface, Andrew Jackson's Indian removal policy passed during his presidency in 1831, which forced the Cherokee Nation to give up its land east of the Mississippi River and migrate to another area in Oklahoma. Those who suffered the removal named it the "Trail of Tears" because of its brutal and inhumane effects. Pam Houston, a short story author, shared her feelings towards Harjo and her novel, saying, “Joy Harjo is a giant-hearted, gorgeous, and glorious gift to the world. Her belief in art, in spirit, is so powerful, it can’t help but spill over to us—lucky readers. Wildly passionate and honest as a hound, Crazy Brave invites us into a whole new way of seeing—deeper, less cluttered, and vastly more courageous than our own. It’s a book for people who want to re-fall in love with the world.”

Harjo left her home to attend high school at the innovative Institute of American Indian Arts. This demonstrates initiative and importance to her education, despite the hardships in her past. Harjo began writing poetry when she was a member of the University of New Mexico’s Native student organization, known as the Kiva Club, because of Native empowerment movements. Students would fight to protect native tribes from past years of discrimination. What’s fascinating about Harjo is her love for performing arts. Harjo plays the flute and the saxophone. She’s part of a band called Arrow Dynamics, which was previously known as Joy Harjo and Poetic Justice. They have toured across the U.S., Europe, South America, India, Africa, and Canada. Joy's dedication allowed her to produce five award-winning music albums including Winding Through the Milky Way. In this album, she goes beyond the perspective of an ongoing dream, influenced by her poetry writing. The successes of her album earned her the title for Best Female Artist of the Year.

In 2019, she was elected chancellor of the Academy of American poets. She tailors her mastery in poetry towards other artists who strive to reach their potential. Every poet has the chance to inspire audiences through their complexity or simplicity thereof. Poetry is well known across educational establishments. With their beauty and quality for emotion, they inspire readers to be cognizant of the world around them.

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