Indigenous peoples have for centuries remained “nearly nonexistent in the American book of poetry,” writes former United States Poet Laureate Joy Harjo. This absence forms part of a more significant problem in American culture, “indigenous peoples of our country are often invisible.” However, hundreds if not thousands of Native Nations poets are working today, and perhaps none has done as much to restore their visibility as Harjo.
Harjo will join the University of Utah’s Tanner Humanities Center for a conversation with Katharine Coles, former Utah Poet Laureate and distinguished professor of English, on Thursday, Oct. 6, 7 p.m. at Kingsbury Hall. The event is free and open to the public, but tickets are required.
Cole and Harjo will discuss Harjo’s “Poet Warrior: a Memoir,” an inspiring contemplation of poetry, prose and song in a journey of becoming, loss and the theft of her ancestral homeland.
“Utah is incredibly fortunate to host Joy Harjo, who is truly a living legend,” said Jeremy Rosen, acting director of the Tanner Humanities Center. “Her beautifully precise poetry reminds us of our turbulent past, enlivens the present and renews our sense of the connections between all peoples and all living things.”
Harjo, a member of the Mvskoke Nation, was the first Native American poet laureate and only the second to serve three terms, from 2019 to 2022. She is the author of many award-winning books, including her recently published memoir, “Poet Warrior,” which is a national bestseller and an ALA Notable Book. During her tenure as U.S. Poet Laureate, she published her signature project, “Living Nations, Living Words,” a digital anthology of Native American poetry from over 40 nations, featuring an interactive map, audio recordings of poets reading their work and a companion print edition. The anthology elevates contemporary Native poetry, which asks vital questions about land, resistance and erasure and centers indigenous voices and experiences. Harjo has been a lifelong champion for such voices, and her activism is known around the globe.
“She gives us poems and poetic ancestors that enrich and enliven our understanding of Native American poetry, American poetry and poetry,” said Hollis Robbins, dean of the College of Humanities. “We are thrilled to hear Joy Harjo’s voice at the Tanner Humanities Center.”
In addition to her work as a poet and activist, Harjo has toured the globe as a musician, sharing her songs on flute and saxophone. She is currently the first artist in residence at the Bob Dylan Center in Tulsa, OK, where she hosts live performances, workshops and presentations on her groundbreaking work.