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Who Is Joy Harjo? New Details On The Woman Named The New Poet Laureate

Photo: The Poetry Foundation
Who Is Joy Harjo? New Details On The Woman Named The New Poet Laureate

As a poet laureate, her responsibilities include being the "official poet of the United States." And she's made history as becoming the first Native American women to hold such a distinction. Who is Joy Harjo?

Let’s look at what we know about this amazing woman and cornerstone of history.

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1. What is a poet laureate?

When someone is a poet laureate, it means different things for different countries. In the United Kingdom, for example, the poet laureate is named by the Queen (currently, Queen Elizabeth II), and though he or she doesn’t have specific duties, he or she is expected to write a poem on behalf of the British Empire for various special occasions.

But according to the Library of Congress, the position of poet laureate in the United States is a little bit different. “As the nation’s official poet, the Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress seeks to raise the national consciousness to a greater appreciation of the reading and writing of poetry. The Poet Laureate is appointed annually by the Librarian of Congress, for a term that lasts from September to May. The Laureate gives a reading to open the Library’s annual literary series and a lecture to conclude the series, the oldest in the Washington area and among the oldest in the United States,” they write.

A poet laureate holds a distinguished title.

2. Joy Harjo is originally from Tulsa, OK.

According to The Library of Congress, Joy Harjo is originally from Tulsa, OK. “The Big Read is a community celebration themed around a particular book. In Billings, the focus will be on Joy Harjo’s poetry collection, "How We Became Human." Part of the funding will be used to bring Harjo to Billings in November. Writer's Voice learned of the funding Friday. On Wednesday, Harjo's appointment as the 23rd U.S. Poet Laureate was announced. She begins the honorary position in the fall, succeeding Tracy K. Smith,” writes The Billings Gazette.

Joy Harjo is a Native American who is the first-ever to become a poet laureate.

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3. She is a member of the Muscogee Creek Nation.

There are, of course, various Native American tribes, each hailing from different parts of what is now the United States of America. Joy Harjo is a member of the Muscogee Creek Nation, which — according to their official website — is an Oklahoma-based tribe that descends from the historic Creek Confederacy, a large group of indigenous peoples of the Southeastern Woodlands.

“Muscogee (Creek) Nation is a self-governed Native American tribe located in Okmulgee, Oklahoma. MCN is one of the 5 Civilized Tribes and is the fourth largest tribe in the U.S. with 86,100 citizens. The government side of the tribe is made up of an executive branch, a legislative body and a tribal court system. MCN is a diverse entity with many facets such as cultural tourism, gaming, businesses, and a higher learning institution,” they reveal on their official website.

Joy Harjo is a member of the Muskogee Creek Nation.

4. Joy Harjo is the first Native American woman to hold the title of poet laureate.

According to NPR, Joy Harjo is the first Native American woman to hold the title of poet laureate, and she’s very proud of her Native American heritage. “I think the culture is bringing me into it with poetry — that it's part of me," Harjo said in an interview with NPR's Lynn Neary. "I don't think about it... And so it doesn't necessarily become a self-conscious thing — it's just there... When you grow up as a person in your culture, you have your culture and you're in it, but you're also in this American culture, and that's another layer."

Joy Harjo is proud of her Native American roots.

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Bernadette Giacomazzo is an editor, writer, and photographer whose work has appeared in People, Teen Vogue, Us Weekly, The Source, XXL, HipHopDX, The Los Angeles Times, The New York Post, and more. She is also the author of The Uprising series. For more information about Bernadette Giacomazzo, click here.