Indian Country Today
Joy Harjo, the first Native American U.S. poet laureate, will end her third term for the Library of Congress at the end of April.
The Muscogee (Creek) Nation citizen is the 23rd U.S. poet laureate and is an award-winning author of nine poetry books, two memoirs, one children’s book and one young adult book.
To celebrate her term ending the Library of Congress will host a reading, dance party and the first retreat for In-Na-Po – Indigenous Nations Poets, a new organization that mentors emerging Native writers. Former Wisconsin Poet Laureate Kimberly Blaeser — Anishinaabe and White Earth Nation — founded the organization.
“For a remarkable three terms as U.S. poet laureate, Joy Harjo has tirelessly promoted Native poets and poetry,” said Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden. “To her, poems are ‘carriers of dreams, knowledge and wisdom,’ and she has been an insightful voice during the difficulties of a pandemic. We are eager to welcome her back to the Library to celebrate her tenure as poet laureate and to host the In-Na-Po retreat on her behalf.”
Poet laureate terms are for a year, and they usually give an opening reading to launch the Library's literary season and close the season with a lecture or panel.
Harjo’s first and second-term closing events were canceled, as well as her projects and programs were delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She has been serving a rare third time since June 2019.
Robert Pinksky is the only other poet laureate who had a third term from 1997 to 2000.
During Harjo’s laureateship, she co-edited two anthologies featuring Native poetry: “When the Light of the World Was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through: A Norton Anthology of Native Nations Poetry” and “Living Nations, Living Words: An Anthology of First Peoples Poetry,” which is part of her signature project Living Nations, Living Words.
The project maps 47 contemporary Native American poets across the United States by an interactive ArcGIS Story Map that was developed with the Library’s Geography and Map Division.
It also includes an online audio collection, which is housed in the Library’s American Folklife Center. It features the poets reading and discussing their original poems based on the theme of place and displacement. Four focal points were also in mind: visibility, persistence, resistance and acknowledgment.
Celebrating her term ending
On April 28 at 7 p.m. ET, at the Coolidge Auditorium in Washington D.C., Harjo will read and discuss her favorite “ancestor poems.” Singer-songwriter Jennifer Kreisberg — Tuscarora, North Carolina — will perform and poet Portlyn Houghton-Harjo — Mvskoke and Seminole — will do a reading.
Harjo will end with a performance of her poem “Remember.”
The next day at the same time, a dance party, hosted by the Library, will be in the Montpelier Room featuring the Haliwa-Saponi citizen, DJ Tnyce. Harjo will be showcasing songs she selected and recordings of her work. Tickets are also free.
Watch: Joy Harjo on "ICT Newscast with Aliyah Chavez"
Concurrently 30 fellows, faculty and guests —including award-winning Native writers and former poet laureates— will participate in workshops and panel discussions for the In-Na-Po – Indigenous Nations Poets retreat. They will visit the retreat’s co-sponsor, the American Folklife Center.
It is part of the center’s “Of the People: Widening the Path” initiative that is supported by an institutional grant from the Mellon Foundation.
“This has been an incredible moment to serve poetry and to celebrate the historic, ongoing contributions of the original peoples of these lands,” Harjo said. “I’m thrilled to conclude my laureateship with In-Na-Po’s inaugural retreat, which marks a fresh beginning for emerging generations of Native poets.”
Announcement for the next poet laureate will likely be in June.
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