American Indian Heritage Month: Commemoration vs. Exploitation
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Harjo, Joy

Joy Harjo, a Muscogee Creek, poet, writer, musician, and teacher, was born in 1951 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, to a full-blooded Creek father and a Cherokee-French mother. She graduated from the University of New Mexico in 1976, having majored in creative writing, and attended the University of Iowa Writers Workshop in 1978 as part of her master of fine arts degree in creative writing. Her poetry is noted for emotional and mythic intensity in describing and connecting oral tradition to contemporary society, with a focus on identity, justice for the oppressed, and a relationship between landscape and history. Harjo's poetry challenges the contemporary Western concepts of linear time and history with the oral traditional concept of the "spiral" memory of storytelling.

In Joy Harjo's first book of poetry, The Last Song (1975), she explores the unwritten aspects of American Indian history. She describes the illusion of history as a past event, depicting it rather as still alive and heavily influencing the contemporary life of American Indians. She describes the past and present connections between people, animals, landscape, and language without the constraints of a linear time line. In her next book of poetry, What Moon Drove Me to This? (1980), Harjo continues to explore the issue of American Indian identity, with a concentration in mixed-blood ancestry. She Had Some Horses (1983) marks a break from an individual perspective to a more collective consciousness about injustices for oppressed people and cultures.

Secrets from the Center of the World (1989) is a chapbook focused on landscape and place, with photographs taken of Southwest landscapes by Stephen Strom. Harjo received an American Book Award and the Delmore Schwartz Memorial Award for her fourth collection of poetry, In Mad Love and War (1990). The Woman Who Fell from the Sky (1994), which received the Oklahoma Book Arts Award, focuses on the oral traditional story motif in contemporary times. Reinventing the Enemy's Language (1997) is a collection of nonfiction essays by Native women, coedited with Gloria Bird. A Map to the Next World: Poetry and Tales (2000) and How We Became Human: New and Selected Poems (2002) are collections of poetry that continue to incorporate the oral tradition, with more attention to the movement into new worlds as in many traditional indigenous creation stories. Other written works by Harjo include a children's book, The Good Luck Cat (2000) and a screenplay for Origin of the Apache Crown Dance (1985).

Joy Harjo is also a saxophone musician who performs her poetry with her band, Poetic Justice. The music in Letter from the End of the Twentieth Century and Native Joy for Real (2004) is a mix of various sounds: reggae, country, rhythm and blues, jazz, and traditional American Indian song. Her many honors include 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, and fellowships from the Arizona Commission on the Arts, the Witter Bynner Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

As of 2006, Harjo was an associate professor at the University of New Mexico. Harjo has also been a professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder (1985) and the University of Arizona at Tucson (1988).

DeLyssa Begay


Further Reading
Bruchac, Joseph. 1987. "The Story of All Our Survival: An Interview with Joy Harjo." In Survival This Way: Interviews with American Indian Poets. Edited by Joseph Bruchac, 87–103. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.; Carabi, Angels. 1994. "Joy Harjo." Belles Lettres 9, no. 4 (Summer): 46–50.; Gould, Janice. 2000. "An Interview with Joy Harjo." Western American Literature 35, no. 2 (Summer): 131–142.; Holmes, Kristine. 1995. "'This Woman Can Cross Any Line': Feminist Tricksters in the Works of Nora Naranjo-Morse and Joy Harjo." Studies in American Indian Literature 7, no. 1 (Spring): 45–63.; McAdams, Janet. 1999. "Castings for a (New) New World: The Poetry of Joy Harjo." In Women Poets of the Americas: Toward a Pan-American Gathering. Edited by Jacqueline V. Brogan and Cordelia C. Candelaria, 210–232. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press.
 

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