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English in the News

Pure Joy

Pure Joy

On November 19, Joy Harjo was named to a rare third term as Poet Laureate of the United States, becoming only the second poet in history of the office to do so. Praised by Carla Hayden, the current Librarian of Congress, as showing “how poetry can help steady us and nurture us” throughout the pandemic, the re-appointment will allow her to focus on her signature project, “Living Nations, Living Words.” This digital project features an interactive ArcGIS Story Map, which features poems and commentary from 47 contemporary Native American poets across the country. 

Hayden isn’t Harjo’s only notable fan. In late October, Oprah Winfrey added Harjo’s 2020 When the Light of the World Was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through, the Norton Anthology of Native Nations poetry, to her new list. Harjo’s voice rings in the introduction from the first words: “We begin with the land. We emerge from the earth of our mother, and our bodies will be returned to earth. We are the land…We are creators of this place with each other.” She and her co-editors organize the poems not by date but by place, following the Moscogean path from East to North, then West, then finally South, with poems like “Sequoyah” and Chocktaw hymns, as well as work by living poets like Santee Frazier, LeAnne Howe, and Harjo. It combines ancient dream songs, Hawaiian chant, 19th-century work, and contemporary spoken word artists, representing 90 of the 573 mainland tribal nations (there are more in Hawai’i). 

Oprah Winfrey features Harjo’s anthology as one of the seven books on her “The Books that Help Me Through” current Oprah’s Book Club list. It also includes work by James Baldwin, Mary Oliver, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Toni Morrison, Eckhart Tolle, and Jon Meacham. She’ll be featuring each book in turn on Instagram at oprahsbookclub, and Harjo’s will be up in the coming weeks. Joy Harjo is serving a second term as the poet laureate of the United States. She stepped down from her position as the Hodges Chair of Excellence last year, but she continues to support our graduate students as a mentor and advocate. She thanks UT’s English department and her graduate assistants Jeremy Michael Reed and Allison Davis in the introduction of the anthology. Reed and Davis were both named managing editors for their role in the work.