23. ilb 06. – 16.09.2023

Joy Harjo

Author and musician, Joy Harjo, was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1951 and is a member of the Mvskoke tribal nation. She attended the Institute of American Indian Art in Santa Fe and studied art and theatre at New Mexico University. From 1979 to 1995, she taught at several institutions of higher education, including the Institute of American Indian Art, the University of Arizona, the University of New Mexico and the University of California in Los Angeles. Harjo is a founding member of the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation. She writes a column called »Comings and Goings« for the Muscogee Nation News.»«

As a student, Harjo had already begun to write poems influenced by Native American music and philosophy as well as by the Native Rights Movement. She needed the »sacred language« of poetry to articulate her stormy inner landscape. »Poetry helped me survive« said the author. She published the first of her seven collection of poems, entitled »The Last Song«, in 1975. The recently published collection »How We Became Human« (2002) brings together new poems and selected poems from earlier books. Harjo’s emotionally intense poetry is rooted in a deep, spiritually anchored connection with nature and explores the complexity of Native American identity. Here reality is contrasted with myth, there woven together with myth.. Recurring motifs in the precise language and vivid imagery of Harjo’s poetry are memory, journeys, the crossing of boundaries, orientation and survival.  Femininity, motherhood and family are also addressed – usually through a female narrative voice. »She Had Some Horses« (1983) takes a particularly intense look at womanhood, dealing with issues of doubt, oppression and confinement alongside awakening, strength and love. Harjo’s poems and prose follow the oral tradition of her people, their songs and storytelling. Her texts develop a concrete, immediate power of expression through their insistent rhythms. Harjo expanded her artistic output in the 1980s by adding a musical component: she began to set her texts to music and has produced three award-winning CDs. She has appeared internationally both as a solo performer and with her band »Joy Harjo and the Arrow Dynamics Band«, in which she not only sings, but also plays saxophone and flute.

Joy Harjo has been awarded many prizes, including the New Mexico Governor´s Award for Excellence in the Arts, the Native Writers Circle of the Americas’ Lifetime Achievement Award and the Lila Wallace Reader´s Digest Award. Her newest work, »For a Girl Becoming«, a book for children and young adults, will be published in October 2009. She lives in Honolulu, Hawaii and Albuquerque, New Mexico.

© international literature festival berlin


How We Became Human
New York, 2002

She Had Some Horses
Thunder’s Mouth Press
New York, 1983

For a Girl Becoming
University of Arizona Press
Tucson, 2009