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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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5. Masculine Heroes   

15. Poetry of Liberation

•  Unit Overview
•  Using the Video
•  Authors
- John Ashberry
- Amiri Baraka
- Lorna Dee Cervantes
- Allen Ginsberg
- Joy Harjo
- Audre Lorde
- Sylvia Plath
- Adrienne Rich
- Gary Snyder
- James Wright
- Suggested
•  Timeline
•  Activities

Authors: Joy Harjo (b. 1951)

Chitto Harjo or Crazy Snake, Head-and-Shoulders Portrait, Facing Front
[8870] AMERICAN PASSAGES, JOY HARJO (2002) courtesy of Annenberg/CPB.

Joy Harjo Activities
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The daughter of a mixed Cherokee, French, and Irish mother and a Creek father, Harjo was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma. As a student and poet, Harjo has remained in touch with her Native American roots. She left Tulsa as a teenager to attend the Institute of American Indian Arts, a high school in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She earned an undergraduate degree from the University of New Mexico and an M.F.A. from the University of Iowa. Her career as an educator has led her all over the Southwest; she has held positions at Arizona State University, the University of Colorado, the University of Arizona, and the University of New Mexico.

The Harjo family has a prominent place in the history of the Creek Indians. As the great-great granddaughter of the leader of a Creek rebellion against their removal from Alabama to Oklahoma, Harjo comes from a people with a painful history. Still, her poetry often emphasizes the positive aspects of Native American heritage. Harjo uses words to begin the healing process and to explain the ruptures in current society. She is interested in questions of gender and ethnic identity and her work devotes special attention to the struggles of Native American women. Her poetry is rich with myth, and she draws inspiration from nature, as well as the oral tradition and culture of her Creek heritage. She often refers to herself as a wanderer, and her poetry explores the experience of movement, relocation, and journey, both physical and spiritual.

Joy Harjo travels widely throughout the United States, playing saxophone with her band. Her poetry also resonates with the rhythms and sounds of music, particularly jazz, blues, country, and Native American dance songs. Harjo's works include The Woman Who Fell from the Sky (1994), A Map to the Next World (1991), and How We Became Human (2002). She co-edited Reinventing the Enemy's Language (1998), an anthology that celebrates the experience of Native American women. The most comprehensive anthology of its kind, it includes poetry, fiction, prayers, and memoir from Native American women, representing nearly fifty Indian nations.

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