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The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture

HARJO, JOY (1951– ).

Born on May 9, 1951, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Joy Harjo is an enrolled member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. The daughter of Allen W. and Wynema Baker Foster, Harjo was not raised on the reservation. Coming from a family of painters, she originally planned on pursuing a career in the visual arts. When she turned sixteen, she moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, and enrolled at the Institute of American Indian Arts to study painting and theater. After graduating in 1968, she decided to pursue a degree in creative writing at the University of New Mexico, receiving a bachelor's degree in 1976. Following her interests in language, literature, and writing, Harjo moved to Iowa and enrolled in the University of Iowa, graduating with an master of fine arts degree in 1978. While at the University of Iowa, she also completed a nondegree program in film making at the Anthropology Film Center.

After receiving her graduate degree, Harjo returned to Santa Fe and taught as an instructor at the Institute of American Indian Arts in 1978–79 and 1983–84 and as a lecturer at Arizona State University in 1980–81. In addition to her work at the Institute of American Indian Arts, she also taught at Santa Fe Community College in 1983–84. Following this series of one-year appointments she secured more full-time positions as an assistant professor at the University of Colorado in 1985–88, an associate professor at the University of Arizona in 1988–90, and finally as a full professor of creative writing at the University of New Mexico in 1991–95.

Influenced by her family and other authors, such as Leslie Silko, Simon Ortiz, Galway Kinnell, and Leo Remero, Harjo was inspired to become a poet and has published several collections: The Last Song (1975), What Moon Drove Me to This (1979), She Had Some Horses (1983), Secrets from the Center of the World (1989), In Mad Love and War (1990), and The Woman Who Fell from the Sky (1994). Drawing on elements from her life, including her struggles as a teenage mother and divorcee, the landscape of the Southwest, and the relationship between humans and nature, her poetry has won many prestigious awards, including the American Book Award, the William Carlos Williams Award, the American Indian Distinguished Achievement Award, and the New Mexico Governor's Award for Excellence in the Arts. In addition, she has received two National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowships in 1978 and 1992 and an honorary doctorate from Benedictine College in 1992.

From 1995 to 2000 Harjo combined her literary interests with music and toured with her band, Poetic Justice, which recorded an album and won the Musical Artist of the Year Award for 1996–97 from the Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers. In 2000 she engaged in a series of poetry readings across the country to promote her new works, Reinventing the Enemy's Language: Contemporary Native Women's Writing of North America and A Map to the Next World, Poetry and Tales. On June 19, 2019, she was named Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress (the official title), commonly called Poet Laureate of the United States. She is the first American Indian to be honored with that designation. She resides in Tulsa.

Nathan Wilson


Joseph Bruchac, "Interview with Joy Harjo," North Dakota Quarterly 53 (1985).

Jeannie Cudlow, "Working the In-between," Studies of American Indian Literature 6 (1994).

Kristine Holmes, "This Woman Can Cross Any Line: Feminist Tricksters in the Works of Nora Naranjo-Morse and Joy Harjo," Studies of American Indian Literature 7 (1995).

Janet McAdams, "Castings for a (New) New World: The Poetry of Joy Harjo," in Women Poets of the Americas: Toward a Pan-American Gathering, ed. Jacqueline V. Brogan and Cordelia C. Candelaria (South Bend, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1999).

Jim Ruppert, "Paula Gunn and Joy Harjo: Closing the Distance Between Personal and Mythic Space," American Indian Quarterly 7 (1983).


The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Nathan Wilson, “Harjo, Joy,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry?entry=HA021.

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