Joy Harjo: Poet Laureate of the United States
In THE interview of my life so far, Joy Harjo, Poet Laureate of the United States (the nation’s “official” poet!) is here. She’s the first Native American to hold this position, and I’ve been a weepy mess since she agreed to chat with us. As someone who lived on raw land in Northern New Mexico and studied with Native Americans, I’m deeply moved by her talent and activism on behalf of tribal peoples and vulnerable female populations. For some reason, I had a strong intuitive sense that Joy would have a perspective on the global Corona pandemic currently sweeping the globe that would bring a higher vision and comfort—and boy, did she! Her thoughts on this topic surprised us both and remind me why I love talking with visionary creatives; you never know what magic awaits!
Joy is the author of nine books, including one of my favorite memoirs, Crazy Brave. Her many honors include the Ruth Lily Prize for Lifetime Achievement from the Poetry Foundation, a PEN USA Literary Award, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. She’s also an award-winning musician with five CDs of original music. Throughout this episode, you’re going to hear snippets of her performance for the Library of Congress the night she began her formal duties as Poet Laureate. Her musical talent, paired with her spoken-word performance, is spellbinding. If you’re not yet a fan of poetry, I’m telling you, that’s about to change.
Joy does something else on this episode we’ve never done before—she reads a piece she’s currently working on for her new memoir. And here’s the thrilling part—you get to hear her EDITING it in real-time as she reads, crossing out words and replacing them with others. You might feel like you’re watching Michelangelo paint, while at the same time, getting the gift of seeing that we’re not so dissimilar in how we must labor to string beautiful words together.
Joy’s mother was Cherokee. Her father Muscogee (Creek)—the 4th largest native population of more than 500 tribes in America. Although my experiences are with Cherokee, Suquamish, Navajo, and Tiwi peoples, Joy has my heart, as you’ll see. This interview feels like the culmination of all I’ve ever wanted—to meld my tree-hugging environmental work and my writing with my affection for Native American culture. It’s hard to put it into words, so I’m going to stop trying. Hopefully, this episode will speak for itself.
Except to say that reaching out to Joy, when I was terrified to do so, has taught me something valuable. It’s made me realize that if we can’t commit now—at least internally—to our deepest longings, when will we?
Stay safe wherever you are.