About this poet

Joy Harjo was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma on May 9, 1951, and is a member of the Mvskoke/Creek Nation.

Harjo received a BA degree from the University of New Mexico before earning an MFA from the Iowa Writers Workshop in 1978.

She is the author of several books of poetry, including Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings (W. W. Norton, 2015); How We Became Human: New and Selected Poems (W. W. Norton, 2002); The Woman Who Fell From the Sky (W. W. Norton, 1994), which received the Oklahoma Book Arts Award; In Mad Love and War (Wesleyan University Press, 1990), which received an American Book Award and the Delmore Schwartz Memorial Award; and What Moon Drove Me to This? (Reed Books, 1979). She is also the author of the memoir Crazy Brave (W. W. Norton, 2012), which won the 2013 PEN Center USA literary prize for creative nonfiction.

Also a performer, Harjo has appeared on HBO's Def Poetry Jam in venues across the U.S. and internationally. She plays saxophone with her band Poetic Justice, and has released four award-winning CD's of original music. In 2009, she won a Native American Music Award (NAMMY) for Best Female Artist of the Year.

Harjo’s other honors include the PEN Open Book Award, the American Indian Distinguished Achievement in the Arts Award, the Josephine Miles Poetry Award, the Mountains and Plains Booksellers Award, the William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America, and fellowships from the Arizona Commission on the Arts, the Witter Bynner Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

In 2015 she received thee Wallace Stevens Award for proven mastery in the art of poetry from the Academy of American Poets. About Harjo, Academy of American Poets Chancellor Alicia Ostiker said, “Throughout her extraordinary career as poet, storyteller, musician, memoirist, playwright and activist, Joy Harjo has worked to expand our American language, culture, and soul.  A Creek Indian and student of First Nation history, Harjo is rooted simultaneously in the natural world, in earth—especially the landscape of the American southwest—and in the spirit world. Aided by these redemptive forces of nature and spirit, incorporating native traditions of  prayer and myth into a powerfully contemporary idiom, her visionary justice-seeking art transforms personal and collective bitterness to beauty, fragmentation to wholeness, and trauma to healing.”

She was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2019. On this occasion, Academy Chancellor Marilyn Chin says Harjo “is an iconic and beloved multi-genre artist. Her poetry, prose, and music have delighted, informed, and tantalized an international audience for over four decades. Her poetry displays a strong commitment to her social and political ideals as she fights tirelessly for Native American justice, ending violence against women, and a variety of important issues. Her masterful spiritual grace always shines through with compassion and forgiveness. Her poetry is a timeless gift to the world.”

Harjo is Professor of English and American Indian studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry
Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings (W. W. Norton, 2015)
How We Became Human: New and Selected Poems (W. W. Norton, 2002)
A Map to the Next World: Poems (W. W. Norton, 2000)
The Woman Who Fell From the Sky (W. W. Norton, 1994)
In Mad Love and War (Wesleyan University Press, 1990)
Secrets from the Center of the World (University of Arizona Press, 1989)
She Had Some Horses (Thunder's Mouth Press, 1983)
What Moon Drove Me to This? (Reed Books, 1979)

Prose
Crazy Brave (W. W. Norton, 2012)

Speaking Tree

 

I had a beautiful dream I was dancing with a tree.

                                                                   —Sandra Cisneros

Some things on this earth are unspeakable:
Genealogy of the broken—
A shy wind threading leaves after a massacre,
Or the smell of coffee and no one there—

Some humans say trees are not sentient beings,
But they do not understand poetry—

Nor can they hear the singing of trees when they are fed by
Wind, or water music—
Or hear their cries of anguish when they are broken and bereft—

Now I am a woman longing to be a tree, planted in a moist, dark earth
Between sunrise and sunset—

I cannot walk through all realms—
I carry a yearning I cannot bear alone in the dark—

What shall I do with all this heartache?

The deepest-rooted dream of a tree is to walk
Even just a little ways, from the place next to the doorway—
To the edge of the river of life, and drink—

I have heard trees talking, long after the sun has gone down:

Imagine what would it be like to dance close together
In this land of water and knowledge. . .

To drink deep what is undrinkable.

From Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings by Joy Harjo. Copyright © 2015 by Joy Harjo. Used with permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

From Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings by Joy Harjo. Copyright © 2015 by Joy Harjo. Used with permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

Joy Harjo

Joy Harjo

Joy Harjo was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma on May 9, 1951, and is a member of the Mvskoke/Creek Nation. In 2015, she received the Wallace Stevens Award, given for proven mastery in the art of poetry. She was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2019.

by this poet

poem

The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.

The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.

We chase chickens or dogs away

poem
Nearly everyone had left that bar in the middle of winter except the
hardcore.  It was the coldest night of the year, every place shut down, but
not us.  Of course we noticed when she came in.  We were Indian ruins.  She
poem

Put down that bag of potato chips, that white bread, that bottle of pop.

Turn off that cellphone, computer, and remote control.

Open the door, then close it behind you.

Take a breath offered by friendly winds. They travel the earth gathering