Today the Library of Congress announced that Joy Harjo will be the next U.S. poet laureate. Harjo, who is a member of the Muscogee Creek Nation, is the first Native American poet to serve as laureate. She will begin her term on September 19, succeeding poet Tracy K. Smith.
“Joy Harjo has championed the art of poetry—‘soul talk’ as she calls it—for over four decades,” said Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden 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 reimagine who we are.”
Harjo is the author of several poetry collections, most recently Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings (Norton, 2015), and the memoir Crazy Brave (Norton, 2012). She is the recipient of the 2017 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize from the Poetry Foundation, the 2015 Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American Poets, and the 1991 William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America, among other honors. On Monday, Poets & Writers, the nonprofit organization that supports this publication, awarded Harjo the $65,000 Jackson Poetry Prize.
“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,” said Harjo of her appointment. “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.”
Harjo succeeds Tracy K. Smith, who served two terms as laureate and focused on bringing poetry to rural and underserved communities. During her tenure, Smith edited and published American Journal: Fifty Poems for Our Time (Graywolf Press, 2018); launched The Slowdown, a daily poetry podcast produced by American Public Media; and read and spoke at many events across the country as part of her American Conversations tour. “As we approach the end of Tracy K. Smith’s two terms as the Poet Laureate of the United States, it’s a moment to celebrate her as arguably the most active and effective poet in this role,” tweeted Graywolf Press executive editor Jeff Shotts in late May. “That Tracy has done this work, had these conversations, and held this role as a Black woman in a racist and violent nation during this racist and violent presidency is impossible to overstate.”
The poet laureate position, which was originally titled the “Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress,” was established in 1937. Recent poet laureates include Juan Felipe Herrera, Charles Wright, Natasha Trethewey, and Philip Levine.