Joy Harjo makes history as first Native American to be named U.S. poet laureate

By Caitlin O'Kane

/ CBS News

Joy Harjo has made history as the first Native American be appointed U.S. poet laureate. Harjo was named as the nation's 23rd poet laureate on Wednesday.

Harjo, a member of the Muscogee Creek Nation, assumes a role that is tasked with raising the "national consciousness to a greater appreciation of the reading and writing of poetry," according to a statement from the Library of Congress. The position has existed within the The Library of Congress Poetry and Literature Center since 1937.

Harjo is the first Native American to serve as U.S. Poet Laureate and is a member of the Muscogee Creek Nation. Carlo Allegri/Getty Images

Harjo joins the ranks of Rita Dove, Tracy K. Smith, Louise Glück, Billy Collins, Stanley Kunitz, Robert Hass and others. She will take up her duties on September 19 – the opening day of the Library's annual literary session. She will kick off her term with a reading of her work in the Coolidge Auditorium at the Library of Congress, according to the statement.

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"Joy Harjo has championed the art of poetry – 'soul talk' as she calls it – for over four decades," Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden said in the statement.

"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," Hayden said. "Her work powerfully connects us to the earth and the spiritual world with direct, inventive lyricism that helps us reimagine who we are."

Harjo, who lives in her hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma, will also be the first poet laureate from Oklahoma. She called the appointment a "tremendous honor."

"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," Harjo said in the statement.

"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," she continued.

As the world's largest library, the Library of Congress is tasked with keeping the creative record of the United States as well as works from around the world. "It is the main research arm of the U.S. Congress and the home of the U.S. Copyright Office," the library's statement reads.

Now, the institution will be have a history-making poet laureate, who understands the timelessness of poetry, fostering the literary programs of our nation.

This Morning I Pray for My Enemies- Joy Harjo (2016)

And whom do I call my enemy?
An enemy must be worthy of engagement.
I turn in the direction of the sun and keep walking.
It's the heart that asks the question, not my furious mind.
The heart is the smaller cousin of the sun.
It sees and knows everything.
It hears the gnashing even as it hears the blessing.
The door to the mind should only open from the heart.
An enemy who gets in, risks the danger of becoming a friend.

First published on June 19, 2019 / 11:50 AM

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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