United States Poet Laureate Joy Harjo will give Transylvania University’s 2020 William R. Kenan Jr. Lecture on “Resilience,” the theme of this academic year.
The first Native American U.S. poet laureate, Harjo is an internationally known, award-winning poet, writer and performer of the Mvskoke Nation.
“Long before I learned that Joy Harjo had been named the U.S. poet laureate this past summer, I was extremely interested in having her come to campus,” said Zoé Strecker, an art professor and director of special academic programming. “For decades she has been a poet with the courage and the authority to directly engage the heartbreaking history of indigenous people in this country.”
The winner of numerous writing awards, Harjo is the author of a memoir and nine books of poetry, including the acclaimed “An American Sunrise.” She earned an MFA at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and has taught at universities across the country and performed music and poetry internationally.
Harjo, who lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma, also plays saxophone and flute with the Arrow Dynamics Band, performing for audiences around the world. In 2009, she won a Native American Music Award for Best Female Artist of the year. Harjo also has published award-winning children’s books and screenplays, among other works.
“She writes with the depth and beauty of her ancestral voice, the voice of the ‘Old Ones,’ as she frequently calls them,” Strecker said. “And yet, she dares to explore her own voice using the language of her ancestors’ oppressors.” She is, in fact, an important symbol of resilience.
Strecker also noted that she invited Harjo to speak on climate change during the Kenan lecture.
The event is part of Transylvania’s New Frontiers series, which invites the public to go beyond the familiar and explore ideas, art and music.
Strecker said she expects Harjo’s presence in the auditorium will be powerful, and Strecker is grateful Transylvania will be among the few colleges to host a reading and lecture by Harjo while she is serving as poet laureate.
The Kenan lecture is one of Transylvania’s biggest events each year, having drawn to campus such notables as Kurt Vonnegut, Salman Rushdie, Elie Wiesel and Beverly Sills.
Photo of Harjo by Paul Abdoo