Nationally renowned poet to read at UNO

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November 14th, 2011

Omaha, NE – A nationally-renowned poet, performer, playwright and author will be speaking at the University of Nebraska Omaha this week. Born in Oklahoma, Joy Harjo is considered a major figure in contemporary American poetry.

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Harjo’s first poems were published in 1975, when she was just 24, in a volume titled The Last Song. She is perhaps best known for her work, In Mad Love and War, which was published in 1990 and deals with the politics of Native American history. Harjo is a native of the Muskogee Creek tribe, and her heritage features prominently in her work. In a recent interview with KVNO News, Harjo said although she’d agree with one way she’s been described – a political, feminist Native American – that’s just a part of who she is.

Joy Harjo is a poet, writer and musician. She will read from her works and perform at UNO Nov. 17. (Photo credit Poetry Foundation)

“I think just like any other human being on earth, the culture we write or we create from, what we come through, what we emerge from as human beings when we take on this life,” Harjo said. “And often, I don’t think most people in the world, when they’re writing, or most writers in the world, think okay, am I writing as a Jewish person today? You just do it. You just write.”

Harjo’s writing has also been described as uniquely spiritual. Kathleen West praised In Mad Love and War in Nebraska’s Prairie Schooner, saying it has “the power of beauty and prophecy and all the hope of love.” And John Scarry commented on her poetry in World Literature Today, calling her a “poet of myth and subconscious.”

Harjo said writing was not always something she wanted to do. But she came to that point after a moment of crisis in her life, and felt moved to respond. “The spirit of poetry came to me,” Harjo said, “and said well, I’m going to take pity on you. You don’t know how to listen, you don’t have grace; you need what I can teach you. And that’s when I started writing.”

Harjo has written ever since. And over the years, she said, her writing has changed her. “It’s constantly teaching you,” she said. “And if you pay attention, it’s basically growing your spirit. It’s something that’s ongoing. It never ends. It’s taught me about patience, it’s taught me about wildness, about being open and free at the same time, you know, being very, very disciplined.”

Harjo also teaches writing. She said she sees it as a practice – just like music or living as a human being. She said it’s partly about architecture and hammering together a structure, and it’s also creating a space for the spirit of creativity to come in.

“Every cell has a little light in it,” she said. “I think everything in this world has that. We’re all part of that. We’re all part of the creative process.”

Harjo has authored a memoir, Crazy Brave, which will be published by Norton next summer. She said it tells the story from before she was born, until the point she began to write. Harjo is also a musician, who plays the saxophone, in the band Poetic Justice. She will perform and read from poetry, essays, and excerpts from her memoir at the University of Nebraska Omaha on Thursday, Nov. 17 at 7:30pm.

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