Joy Harjo has been appointed to a second term as the nation’s poet laureate, the Library of Congress announced on Thursday.

During her first year in the role, Harjo focused on expanding her digital presence, connecting with other Native poets and highlighting the intersection between music and poetry.

“That synergy was something that we wanted her to continue and add to,” Carla Hayden, the librarian of Congress, said. “It broadens your concept of poetry. When you hear lyrics of a song, that’s poetry.”

In her second term, which starts Sept. 1, Harjo will focus on a project called “Living Nations, Living Words: A Map of First Peoples Poetry,” a digital interactive map featuring contemporary Native poets, including videos of them reading their work. It will be added to the Library’s historical collection of maps, which is among the largest in the world. After the coronavirus pandemic began, Hayden said, Harjo’s project “had even more resonance, in terms of telling stories and using poetry therapeutically.”

“If you can’t leave home or travel, you can travel with these poets,” Hayden added. “You can travel through geography.”

Harjo, 68, has dedicated her career to making Native people and their stories visible, exploring tribal histories, spirituality and feminist issues in nine collections of poetry. For her most recent book, “An American Sunrise,” she traveled to the site where her ancestors were forcibly removed in the 1800s as a way to draw a spiritual connection with them. In August, a collection of work by Native poets that she edited is set to be published by W.W. Norton.

Born in Tulsa, Okla., and raised on Native land, Harjo is the eldest of four children. At a performing arts high school and later the University of New Mexico and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, she explored literature as well as art and music.

In addition to her poetry, she has written a memoir, “Crazy Brave,” that shed light on a troubled childhood, as well as children’s and young adult books. She has also released several albums and won the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, which is granted to a living American poet who has produced extraordinary work.

In a statement accompanying the Library of Congress’s announcement, Harjo said the position was an honor, “especially during these times of earth transformation and cultural change.”

“Poetry reminds us that we are connected beyond words, and to communicate through poetry has the potential to expand the conversation into wordless depths, to help us move collectively into fresh cultural vision,” she added. “To get there in understanding, we begin with the roots. In this country, the roots are found in the poetry of the more than 500 living Indigenous nations.”

Hayden said she hoped that Harjo’s work highlighting Native poets “expands the definition of who writes poetry.”

“When you think of all the Indigenous people in the nation, that poetry goes back hundreds of years, and it’s part of this culture,” Hayden said, adding that the musicality of Harjo’s poetry makes it accessible, especially to young people. “I would just encourage people to read one of her poems, and you’ll hear the music in your head when you’re reading them.”





Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here