Joy Harjo appointed for third term as US poet laureate

Joy Harjo poses inside the Library of Congress, in Washington, D.C. Harjo has been appointed for a third term as the U.S. Poet Laureate. (Shawn Miller/Library of Congress)

Joy Harjo is in the history books – again.

The former New Mexico resident became the nation’s first Native American poet laureate in 2019.

Last week, Harjo was appointed to her third term in the position – making her the second laureate to receive this extension since terms for the position were established in 1943.

“This has been a challenging year for the country, for our earth. Poetry has provided doorways for joy, grief and understanding in the midst of turmoil and pandemic,” Harjo said. “I welcome the opportunity of a third term to activate my project and visit communities to share Native poetry. The story of America begins with Native presence, thoughts and words. Poetry is made of word threads that weave and connect us.”

Harjo’s third one-year term will begin in September.

She will continue to focus on her signature project, “Living Nations, Living Words,” which was launched last week, in celebration of Native American Heritage Month.

This digital project features an interactive ArcGIS Story Map, developed with the Library’s Geography and Map Division, which maps 47 contemporary Native American poets across the country – including Harjo, Louise Erdrich, Natalie Diaz, Ray Young Bear, Craig Santos Perez, Sherwin Bitsui and Layli Long Soldier.

The map connects to a new online audio collection developed by Harjo and housed in the Library’s American Folklife Center, which features the participating poets reading and discussing an original poem. Each chose their poems based on the theme of place and displacement, and with four focal points in mind: visibility, persistence, resistance and acknowledgment.

Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden said Harjo’s third term will offer her an opportunity to complete projects and programs whose timelines continue to be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Throughout the pandemic, Joy Harjo has shown how poetry can help steady us and nurture us. I am thankful she is willing to continue this work on behalf of the country,” Hayden said. “A third term will give Joy the opportunity to develop and extend her signature project.”

Harjo taught at the University of New Mexico and toggled between Albuquerque and Santa Fe before moving back to her native Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Her journey started when she began writing poetry for UNM’s literary magazine. She graduated with the school’s first creative writing degree class.

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