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Joy Harjo named first Native American Poet Laureate of the United States!

Joy Harjo named first Native American Poet Laureate of the United States!


This “Renaissance Woman” is a citizen of the Muscogee-Creek Nation.

Summarized Biography from Wikipedia

Joy Harjo (born Joy Foster on May 9, 1951, Tulsa, Oklahoma) is a poet, musician, and author. She is also the first Native American United States Poet Laureate. Born in Oklahoma, she took her paternal grandmother’s surname when she enrolled in the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. She is an important figure in the second wave of the literary Native American Renaissance of the late twentieth century. She studied at the Institute of American Indian Arts, completed her undergraduate degree at University of New Mexico in 1976, and earned an M.F.A. at the University of Iowa in its Creative Writing Program.

In addition to writing books and other publications, Harjo has taught in numerous United States universities, performed at poetry readings and music events, and released five albums of her original music. Her books include Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings (2015), Crazy Brave (2012), and How We Became Human: New and Selected Poems 1975–2002 (2004). She was a recipient of the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize. In 2019, she was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. [1]

Harjo was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma on May 9, 1951, with the given name Joy Foster. Her father, Allen W. Foster, was Muscogee Creek and her mother, Wynema Baker Foster, has mixed ancestry of Cherokee, French, and Irish. Harjo was the oldest of four children.  When Harjo enrolled at age 19 as a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, she took her paternal grandmother’s last name “Harjo” (it is a common name among Muscogee and related peoples).

Harjo’s parents divorced due to her father’s drinking and harsh behavior. He was both emotionally and physically abusive when drunk. Her mother’s second marriage was to a man who disliked Indians and was equally abusive. Both of these harsh childhood relationships took a negative toll on Harjo. At one point, she became afraid to speak, which caused her to have difficulties with teachers at school.[2]

Harjo loved painting and found that it gave her a way to express herself. At the age of 16, she was kicked out of her family house by her stepfather. She moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, and enrolled in the Institute of American Indian Arts.

Harjo married Phil Wilmon, another IAIA student. They had a son whom they named Phil Dayn. Harjo and Wilmon later divorced. She enrolled at the University of New Mexico, beginning as a pre-med student. Harjo later changed her major to art and then creative writing, as she was inspired by different Native American writers.  Graduated from the University of New Mexico in 1976, she then earned her master of fine arts degree in creative writing from the University of Iowa.

After Harjo had poetry readings with Simon Ortiz (Acoma Pueblo), he became a mentor. They developed a close relationship and had a daughter together, Rainy Dawn.  Harjo taught at the Institute of American Indian Arts from 1978 to 1979 and 1983 to 1984. She taught at Arizona State University from 1980 to 1981, the University of Colorado from 1985 to 1988, the University of Arizona from 1988 to 1990, and the University of New Mexico from 1991 to 1995.[2]

The poet also attended the Anthropology Film Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico, to take classes on filmmaking. Harjo has played alto saxophone with the band Poetic Justice, edited literary journals, and written screen plays.In 1995, Harjo received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Native Writers’ Circle of the Americas.In 2002, Harjo received the PEN/Beyond Margins Award for A Map to the Next World: Poetry and Tales. In 2008, she served as a founding member of the Board of Directors for the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation, for which she serves as a member of its National Advisory Council. Harjo joined the faculty of the American Indian Studies Program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in January 2013. In 2016, Harjo was appointed to the Chair of Excellence in the Department of English at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.  In June 2019, she was named the Poet Laureate of the United States. She is the first Native American to be given this high honor.

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Richard Thornton is a professional architect, city planner, author and museum exhibit designer-builder. He is today considered one of the nation’s leading experts on the Southeastern Indians. However, that was not always the case. While at Georgia Tech Richard was the first winner of the Barrett Fellowship, which enabled him to study Mesoamerican architecture and culture in Mexico under the auspices of the Institutio Nacional de Antropoligia e Historia. Dr. Roman Piňa-Chan, the famous archaeologist and director of the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, was his fellowship coordinator. For decades afterward, he lectured at universities and professional societies around the Southeast on Mesoamerican architecture, while knowing very little about his own Creek heritage. Then he was hired to carry out projects for the Muscogee-Creek Nation in Oklahoma. The rest is history. Richard is the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the KVWETV (Coweta) Creek Tribe and a member of the Perdido Bay Creek Tribe. In 2009 he was the architect for Oklahoma’s Trail of Tears Memorial at Council Oak Park in Tulsa. He is the president of the Apalache Foundation, which is sponsoring research into the advanced indigenous societies of the Lower Southeast.

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