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Joy Harjo named first Native American U.S. poet laureate

By
Karen Butler
Joy Harjo was named the 23rd poet laureate of the United States on Wednesday. Photo by Shawn Miller/Library of Congress
Joy Harjo was named the 23rd poet laureate of the United States on Wednesday. Photo by Shawn Miller/Library of Congress

June 19 (UPI) -- Joy Harjo was named the 23rd poet laureate of the United States on Wednesday, the Library of Congress announced.

The 68-year-old writer, who is the first Native American to serve in this capacity, is expected to begin her 2019-20 duties after a ceremony and public reading of her work on Sept. 19.

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"Joy Harjo has championed the art of poetry -- 'soul talk' as she calls it -- for over four decades," Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden said in a press release.

"To her, poems are 'carriers of dreams, knowledge and wisdom,' and through them she tells an American story of tradition and loss, reckoning and myth-making. Her work powerfully connects us to the earth and the spiritual world with direct, inventive lyricism that helps us re-imagine who we are."

Harjo lives in her hometown of Tulsa. Her collections of poems include Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings, The Woman Who Fell From the Sky and In Mad Love and War.

"I share this honor with ancestors and teachers who inspired in me a love of poetry, who taught that words are powerful and can make change when understanding appears impossible, and how time and timelessness can live together within a poem," Harjo said. "I count among these ancestors and teachers my Muscogee Creek people, the librarians who opened so many doors for all of us, and the original poets of the indigenous tribal nations of these lands, who were joined by diverse peoples from nations all over the world to make this country and this country's poetry."

Among the scribes to previously hold the position of Poet Laureate are Tracy K. Smith, Juan Felipe Herrera, Charles Wright, Natasha Trethewey, Philip Levine, W.S. Merwin, Kay Ryan, Charles Simic, Donald Hall, Ted Kooser, Louise Gl├╝ck, Billy Collins, Stanley Kunitz, Robert Pinsky, Robert Hass and Rita Dove.

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