Our Poet Laureate Has Been Named. It's Historic

Joy Harjo, 68, is first-ever Native American in the role
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 19, 2019 10:10 AM CDT
Meet Our First-Ever Native American Poet Laureate
In this June 6, 2019, photo, Joy Harjo poses inside the Library of Congress in Washington.   (Shawn Miller/Library of Congress)

The first Oklahoman to ever be bestowed the title of US poet laureate has another distinction to brag about: She'll also be the first Native American to serve in the role when she takes over for Tracy K. Smith in the fall and becomes the 23rd Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry, the official title bestowed by the Library of Congress. Joy Harjo, 68, whose appointment was announced by Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden on Wednesday, is a Tulsa native who is also a member of the Muscogee Creek Nation. "It's such an honoring for Native people in this country, when we've been so disappeared and disregarded," Harjo tells NPR. "I bear that honor on behalf of the people and my ancestors. So that's really exciting for me."

Harjo, who's also an award-winning saxophonist, has eight poetry books under her belt, with a new collection, American Sunrise, set to be published in August; she has also authored a memoir and children's literature, USA Today notes. "Joy Harjo has championed the art of poetry—'soul talk' as she calls it—for over four decades," Hayden says in a release. "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." Speaking about the honor, Harjo adds to the New York Times: "I'm still in a little bit of shock." (More poet laureate stories.)

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