Joy Harjo has been named the 23rd poet laureate of the United States, succeeding Tracy K. Smith. Harjo, an enrolled member of the Muscogee Creek Nation, is the first Native American poet to hold the post, as well as the nation's first poet laureate from the state of Oklahoma.
The Tulsa-born Harjo is the author of eight books of poetry, including, most recently, Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings (W. W. Norton). Her next book of poems, An American Sunrise, will be published by Norton in fall 2019. She is also the author of a memoir, Crazy Brave (Norton), which won the 2013 PEN Center USA literary prize for creative nonfiction; a children’s book, The Good Luck Cat (Harcourt, Brace); and a YA book, For a Girl Becoming (University of Arizona Press).
Harjo is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Jackson Prize from Poets & Writers, the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize from the Poetry Foundation, the Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American Poets, the PEN Open Book Award, the American Indian Distinguished Achievement in the Arts Award, the New Mexico Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts, an Oklahoma Book Arts Award, an American Book Award, and a Delmore Schwartz Memorial Award.
“Joy Harjo has championed the art of poetry—‘soul talk’ as she calls it—for over four decades,” Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden said in a statement. “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.”
Harjo is the second poet to be named to the post by Hayden (the post's official title is Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress). The position has existed since 1937 and requires its holder to, according the Library of Congress, "raise the national consciousness to a greater appreciation of the reading and writing of poetry," a duty that has historically been interpreted differently by each holder of the title.
“What a tremendous honor it is to be named the U.S. Poet Laureate,” Harjo said in a statement. “I share this honor with ancestors and teachers who inspired in me a love of poetry, who taught that words are powerful and can make change when understanding appears impossible, and how time and timelessness can live together within a poem. I count among these ancestors and teachers my Muscogee Creek people, the librarians who opened so many doors for all of us, and the original poets of the indigenous tribal nations of these lands, who were joined by diverse peoples from nations all over the world to make this country and this country’s poetry.”