Joy Harjo

Acclaimed Indigenous Poet & Memoirist
NAMMY-winning Musician

 

"Joy Harjo is now writing a visionary poetry that is among the very best we have." —Village Voice

"Defining the poet's role as a 'journey for truth, for justice,' [Harjo] explores the role of the artist in society, the quest for love, the links among the arts, what constitutes family, and what it means to be human." —Library Journal

"I turn and return to Harjo's poetry for her breathtaking complex witness and for her world-remaking language." —Adrienne Rich

 

Joy Harjo was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and is an internationally known poet, performer, writer, and saxophone player of the Mvskoke/Creek Nation. Her seven books of poetry include such well-known titles as How We Became Human: New and Selected Poems, The Woman Who Fell From the Sky, and She Had Some Horses, all published by W.W. Norton. Her poetry has garnered many awards including the New Mexico Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts, the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Native Writers Circle of the Americas, 1998 Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Award, and the William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America.

Harjo's memoir, Crazy Brave (W.W. Norton, 2012), tells of her journey to becoming a poet and was called "The best kind of memoir, an unself-conscious mix of autobiography, spiritual rumination, cultural evaluation, history and political analysis told in simple but authoritative and deeply poetic proze" by Ms Magazine. In 2013, Harjo won the PEN Literary Award for Creative Nonfiction for Crazy BraveSoul Talk, Song Language (2011) is a collection of Harjo's essays and interviews published by Wesleyan Press. She co-edited an anthology of contemporary Native women's writing: Reinventing the Enemy's Language: Native Women's Writing of North America, one of the London Observer's Best Books of 1997. She wrote the award-winning children's book, The Good Luck Cat (Harcourt); and in 2009 she published a young adult, coming-of-age-book, For A Girl Becoming, which won a Moonbeam Award and a Silver Medal from the Independent Publishers Awards.

“Joy Harjo is a poet of music just as she is a poet of words.” —Paul Winter, Grammy award winning saxophonist

 

A renowned musician, Harjo has released four award-winning CD's of original music and in 2009 won a Native American Music Award (NAMMY) for Best Female Artist of the Year for Winding Through the Milky Way. Her most recent CD release is a traditional flute album: Red Dreams, a Trail Beyond Tears. Other album titles are Letter from the End of the Twentieth Century (reggae/dub style music with spoken poetry), Native Joy for Real (music with poetry/songs), and She Had Some Horses (spoken word with a few music bonus trax). She performs nationally and internationally with her band, the Arrow Dynamics. She also performs her one-woman show, "Wings of Night Sky, Wings of Morning Light," which premiered at the Wells Fargo Theater in Los Angeles in 2009 with other performances at the Public Theater in NYC and LaJolla Playhouse as part of the Native Voices at the Autry. She has received a Rasmusson: US Artists Fellowship and is a founding board member of the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation. Harjo writes a column “Comings and Goings” for her tribal newspaper, the Muscogee Nation News. She lives in Glenpool, OK.

Harjo writes of her process, "It's important as a writer to do my art well and do it in a way that is powerful and beautiful and meaningful, so that my work regenerates the people."

Interview with Terrain.org

About CRAZY BRAVE (Memoir, 2012)

"A spiritual coming-of-age memoir from a poet praised for her 'breathtaking complex witness and world-remaking language.'" —Adrienne Rich


In this transcendent memoir, grounded in tribal myth and ancestry, music and poetry, Joy Harjo, one of our leading Native American voices, details her journey to becoming a poet. Born in Oklahoma, the end place of the Trail of Tears, Harjo grew up learning to dodge an abusive stepfather by finding shelter in her imagination, a deep spiritual life, and connection with the natural world. She attended an Indian arts boarding school, where she nourished an appreciation for painting, music, and poetry; gave birth while still a teenager; and struggled on her own as a single mother, eventually finding her poetic voice. Narrating the complexities of betrayal and love, Crazy Brave is a memoir about family and the breaking apart necessary in finding a voice. Harjo's tale of a hardscrabble youth, young adulthood, and transformation into an award-winning poet and musician is haunting, unique, and visionary.

About SOUL TALK, SONG LANGUAGE (Conversations, 2011)

"In Soul Talk Joy Harjo provides a rare and treasurable acoustic: the sound of an artist and woman thinking for herself, and for us. Never afraid of large questions of purpose and identity. But never remiss either in providing beautiful, small details of craft and commitment. This is an essential book." —Eavan Boland


Joy Harjo is a "poet-healer-philosopher-saxophonist," and one of the most powerful Native American voices of her generation. She has spent the past two decades exploring her place in poetry, music, dance/performance, and art. Soul Talk, Soul Language gathers together in one complete collection many of these explorations and conversations. Through an eclectic assortment of media, including personal essays, interviews, and newspaper columns, Harjo reflects upon the nuances and development of her art, the importance of her origins, and the arduous reconstructions of the tribal past, as well as the dramatic confrontation between Native American and Anglo civilizations. Harjo takes us on a journey into her identity as a woman and an artist, poised between poetry and music, encompassing tribal heritage and reassessments and comparisons with the American cultural patrimony. She presents herself in an exquisitely literary context that is rooted in ritual and ceremony and veers over the edge where language becomes music.

About SHE HAD SOME HORSES (Poetry, 2008)

"She Had Some Horses is a literary event of importance. The poetry here is of mythic and timeless character, native and lyrical in its expression, profound in its reflection of a worldview that is at once precise and comprehensive. There is much of the oral tradition here, much that is worthy of our closest attention and deepest respect." —N. Scott Momaday


First published in 1983 and now considered a classic, She Had Some Horses is a powerful exploration of womanhood's most intimate moments. Joy Harjo's poems speak of women's despair, of their imprisonment and ruin at the hands of men and society, but also of their awakenings, power, and love.

Joy Harjo website