Born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, she left home to attend high school at the innovative Institute of American Indian Arts, which was then a Bureau of Indian Affairs school. Harjo began writing poetry as a member of the University of New Mexico’s Native student organization, the Kiva Club, in response to Native empowerment movements. She went on to earn her MFA at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and teach English, Creative Writing, and American Indian Studies at University of California Los Angeles, University of New Mexico, University of Arizona, Arizona State, University of Illinois, University of Colorado, University of Hawai’i, Institute of American Indian Arts, and University of Tennessee, while performing music and poetry nationally and internationally.
Harjo is the author of nine books of poetry, including her most recent, the highly acclaimed An American Sunrise (2019); Conflict Resolution for Holy Beins (2015), which was shortlisted for the Griffin Prize and named a Notable Book of the Year by the American Library Association; The Woman Who Fell From the Sky (1994), which received the Oklahoma Book Award; and In Mad Love and War (1990), which received an American Book Award and the Delmore Schwartz Memorial Award. Her memoir, Crazy Brave, was awarded the PEN USA Literary Award in Creative Non Fiction and the American Book Award.
She has published two award-winning children’s books, The Good Luck Cat and For a Girl Becoming; a collaboration with photographer/ astronomer Stephen Strom; an anthology of North American Native women’s writing; several screenplays and collections of prose interviews; and three plays, including Wings of Night Sky, Wings of Morning Light, A Play, which she toured as a one-woman show and was recently published by Wesleyan Press. She is Executive Editor of the forthcoming anthology When the Light of the World was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through — A Norton Anthology of Native Nations Poetry, to be released in 2020.
Harjo performs band, and previously with Joy Harjo and Poetic Justice. She/ they have toured across the U.S. and in Europe, South America, India, Africa, and Canada. Harjo has produced five award-winning music albums including Winding Through the Milky Way, for which she was awarded a NAMMY for Best Female Artist of the year.
She is at work on a musical play, We Were There When Jazz Was Invented, which will change the origin story of American music to include southeastern Native peoples. She is also writing her next memoir, a historical memoir linking her generation of Native rights activists and workers with the seventh generation from which they are descended, a generation that includes her grandfather Monahwee, who with the Red Stick warriors fought Andrew Jackson against the unlawful move to Indian Territory, and her great-uncle Osceola, the Seminole warrior.
Harjo’s awards for poetry include the Ruth Lily Prize for Lifetime Achievement from the Poetry Foundation, the Academy of American Poets Wallace Stevens Award, the New Mexico Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts, a PEN USA Literary Award, Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund Writers’ Award, a Rasmuson US Artist Fellowship, two NEA fellowships, and a Guggenheim Fellowship.
In addition to serving as U.S. Poet Laureate, Harjo is a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, holds a Tulsa Artist Fellowship, directs For Girls Becoming, an arts mentorship program for young Mvskoke women, and is a founding board member of the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation. She lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
- An Evening with Joy Harjo
- Women’s Empowerment
- Indigenous Poetry & Native Literature