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2.8: The Homecoming — Joy Harjo
Few people have created art across as many disciplines as Joy Harjo. Even fewer have achieved her level of success.
The Tulsa native and member of the Muscogee Creek Nation is best known for her poetry, which she writes as "a voice of the indigenous people." Since the 1970s, she has published 12 books of poetry, which have won her myriad awards: the prestigious Ruth Lilly Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Josephine Miles Poetry Award, the William Carlos Williams Award, the American Indian Distinguished Achievement in the Arts Award, the American Library Association’s Notable Book of the Year, to name just a few. Her memoir, "Crazy Brave," which details her troubling childhood and her journey to becoming a poet, won the PEN USA Literary Award for Creative Non-Fiction. She reflects on that memoir — and the personal history it forced her to confront — during our interview.
Joy Harjo first studied visual art — and absolutely loved it. But there was a moment in college where her focus shifted, transforming her from an artist into a poet.
Most recently, Joy was the Chair of Excellence in the Department of English at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Prior to that, she was a professor of English in the American Indian Studies department at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. She has also taught at the Institute of American Indian Arts, Arizona State University, and the universities of Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico.
Harjo also is an accomplished vocalist and instrumental musician, playing a menagerie that includes the guitar, ukulele, bass, flute and saxophone. Her music often incorporates the spoken word. She has produced 5 award-winning albums and is a recipient of the Native American Music Award for Best Female Artist of the Year. She performs extensively nationally and internationally with her band, Arrow Dynamics.
Jerry Wofford from the Woody Guthrie Center dropped by to talk about the musical line-up for the center’s Sixth Anniversary Celebration April 26-28.
Be sure to check out these great musicians performing at Guthrie Green, for free, April 26-28. More information can be found at woodyguthriecenter.org.
Joy Harjo’s poetry has diverse themes as complex as the artist herself: her ancestry, indigenous values, feminism, politics, individual struggle, what it means to be human. Now, at age 67, her work continues to evolve. In January she began a Tulsa Artist Fellowship to continue her exploration of poetry and music. Established by the George Kaiser Family Foundation, the local fellowship selected 27 fellows from a pool of over 700 applicants representing 42 states. Joy’s return to Tulsa is prophetic; in one of her very first poems, written in the late ‘70s, she wrote, "Oklahoma will be the last song I’ll ever sing."
Also featured in this podcast: Joy reading her poem "Break My Heart."
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Every episode, we play you out with some local music. This is the Red Dirt Rangers singing "Woody's Road," from their live album called "Blue Door Nights," which released in December. The Rangers will perform at the Woody Guthrie Center Sixth Anniversary Celebration. The song is about Woody Guthrie.
Find out more on the band's website, reddirtrangers.com.
This episode of Tulsa Talks is brought to you by the Tulsa Regional Chamber.