The MFA Creative Writing Program is thrilled to welcome poet, playwright and musican Joy Harjo as the 2021 Katie Jacobson Writer in Residence. Her interdisciplinary, collaborative spirit and commitment to mentorship and empowerment strongly resonates with the kinds of creativity, activism and care our program engages and encourages.
Joy Harjo, the 23rd Poet Laureate of the United States, is a member of the Mvskoke Nation and belongs to Oce Vpofv (Hickory Ground). She is only the second poet to be appointed a third term as U.S. Poet Laureate. Born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, she left home to attend high school at the innovative Institute of American Indian Arts, which was then a Bureau of Indian Affairs school. Harjo began writing poetry as a member of the University of New Mexico’s Native student organization, the Kiva Club, in response to Native empowerment movements. She went on to earn her MFA at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and teach English, Creative Writing, and American Indian Studies at University of California-Los Angeles, University of New Mexico, University of Arizona, Arizona State, University of Illinois, University of Colorado, University of Hawai’i, Institute of American Indian Arts, and University of Tennessee, while performing music and poetry nationally and internationally.
Harjo is the author of nine books of poetry, including her most recent, the highly acclaimed An American Sunrise (2019), which was a 2020 Oklahoma Book Award Winner; Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings (2015), which was shortlisted for the Griffin Prize and named a Notable Book of the Year by the American Library Association; and In Mad Love and War (1990), which received an American Book Award and the Delmore Schwartz Memorial Award. Her first memoir, Crazy Brave, was awarded the PEN USA Literary Award in Creative Non Fiction and the American Book Award, and her second, Poet Warrior: A Call for Love and Justice, is forthcoming from W.W. Norton in Fall 2021.
She has published two award-winning children’s books, The Good Luck Cat and For a Girl Becoming; a collaboration with photographer/astronomer Stephen Strom; an anthology of North American Native women’s writing; several screenplays and collections of prose interviews; and three plays, including Wings of Night Sky, Wings of Morning Light, A Play, which she toured as a one-woman show and was recently published by Wesleyan Press.
She is Executive Editor of the anthology When the Light of the World was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through — A Norton Anthology of Native Nations Poetry and the editor of Living Nations, Living Words: An Anthology of First Peoples Poetry, the companion anthology to her signature Poet Laureate project featuring a sampling of work by 47 Native Nations poets through an interactive ArcGIS Story Map and a newly developed Library of Congress audio collection.
Harjo’s awards for poetry include the Ruth Lily Prize for Lifetime Achievement from the Poetry Foundation, the Academy of American Poets Wallace Stevens Award, the New Mexico Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts, a PEN USA Literary Award, Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund Writers’ Award, the Poets & Writers Jackson Poetry Prize, a Rasmuson USArtist Fellowship, two NEA fellowships, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Harjo performs with her saxophone and flutes, solo and with her band, the Arrow Dynamics Band, and previously with Joy Harjo and Poetic Justice. She/they have toured across the U.S. and in Europe, South America, India, Africa, and Canada. Harjo has produced six award-winning music albums including Winding Through the Milky Way, for which she was awarded a NAMMY for Best Female Artist of the year, and her newest album, I Pray for My Enemies, with Sunyata Records. In addition to serving as U.S. Poet Laureate, Harjo is a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, holds a Tulsa Artist Fellowship, directs For Girls Becoming, an arts mentorship program for young Mvskoke women, and is a founding board member and Chair of the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation. She lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma.