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The Heath Anthology of American Literature, Fifth Edition
Paul Lauter, General Editor

Joy Harjo (Creek)
(b. 1951)

Joy Harjo is a Creek Indian, born in the heart of the Creek Nation in Tulsa, Oklahoma. After graduation from the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico, she subsequently taught there from 1978 to 1979 and again from 1983 to 1984. In 1978 she earned an M.F.A. after studying at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She is a professor at the University of New Mexico. Along with her continuing poetry, she is presently involved in writing screenplays and has just completed in collaboration with an astronomer her fourth book.

Joy Harjo’s poetry is widely praised and recognized. She has seen her work published in many literary reviews in the United States, as well as in magazines and anthologies. A cadence marks her work that is reminiscent of the repetitions of the Indian ceremonial drum, exemplified in the energy and motion of her “She Had Some Horses.” Her poetic voice and imagery have steadily developed as she resurrects the carnage of the early conflict between native and European, “the fantastic and terrible story of our survival” (“Anchorage” poem), and the rejoicing experienced by those who carry on Indian traditions and culture. Her work provides a unique perspective and a piquant examination of American culture from a native point of view. Her verse cries out for the lost, the dispossessed, and the forgotten of reservation, rural, and urban America. Her rigorous words pronounce an awakening for those left voiceless in the past. She relentlessly pursues in print tensions surrounding gender and ethnicity. She explores the pain of existence and the dream fusion of the individual with the landscape, especially the mesa-strewn Southwest. Like so many other Native Americans, Joy Harjo has traveled across the nation and her poetry reflects the exuberance for sight and sound of the Indian powwow circuit, moving through the culture of pan-Indian America, and participation in Indian-related conferences. Her lyricism mirrors the lushness of feel for the countryside and rich images of the people she encounters. Her work mingles realism and the philosophy of American Indian spirituality. She recalls the wounds of the past, the agony of the Indian present, and dream visions of a better future for indigenous peoples. Her work continues to deal with themes which call forth rage and elation at the same time. The multiplicity of emotions she touches is encompassed in her 1983 She Had Some Horses in the title poem:

She had some horses she loved.
She had some horses she hated.
These were the same horses.

C. B. Clark
Oklahoma City University

In the Heath Anthology
Anchorage (1983)
New Orleans (1983)
Remember (1983)
The Woman Hanging from the Thirteenth Floor Window (1983)
Vision (1983)
Deer Dancer (1990)
We Must Call a Meeting (1990)

Other Works
The Last Song (1975)
What Moon Drove Me to This (1979)
She Had Some Horses (1983)
Secrets from the Center of the World (with Steven Strom) (1989)
In Mad Love and War (1990)
The Woman Who Fell From the Sky (1994)
Letter from the End of the Twentieth Century (compact disk album) (1996)
Reinventing the Enemy's Language, ed. with Gloria Bird (1997)

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Joy Harjo
A biography, summary of accolades, and comprehensive selection of works available online.

Native American Authors Project
A biographical sketch, links, and a detailed list of works.

The Academy of American Poets
This web exhibit provides a biography, links, and the text of Deer Dancer.

Voices from the Gaps
Biography, criticism, primary and secondary bibliography, and links.

Secondary Sources