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UT professor Joy Harjo becomes first Native American writer to be named US Poet Laureate

She will retire next month before taking on this position in the fall.
Credit: Shawn Miller
Poet Laureate of the United States Joy Harjo, June 6, 2019. Photo by Shawn Miller.

A University of Tennessee professor will become the nation's 23rd Pote Laureate. 

The Library of Congress announced Wednesday Joy Harjo's appointment.

She has taught in the English department at UT for the past three years and also was a chair of excellence.

She will retire next month before taking on this position in the fall, opening the Library’s annual literary season on Sept. 19 with a reading of her work in the Coolidge Auditorium.

Harjo will be the first Native American poet to serve in the position.

She succeeds Tracy K. Smith, who served two terms as laureate. 

“Joy Harjo has championed the art of poetry – ‘soul talk’ as she calls it – for over four decades,” Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden said. “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.”

According to the Library of Congress, Harjo currently lives in her hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma, and is the nation’s first Poet Laureate from Oklahoma. 

“What a tremendous honor it is to be named the U.S. Poet Laureate,” Harjo said. “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. 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.”

Read more about Harjo's background here.

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