There must be something about New Mexico that brings out the artist, the stories and the voices of those previously unheard. At 16 years old, Joy Harjo left her home in Tulsa, Oklahoma to attend Santa Fe’s Institute of American Indian Arts, which was still a BIA school at the time. After witnessing the renaissance of American Indian art first hand, she soon found herself at UNM and writing as part of the KIVA Club, initially in response to social justice and Native empowerment movements, and never looked back. Ms. Harjo remembers it fondly.
“I began writing poetry when I was a student at the University of New Mexico, under the guidance and care of my two poetry professors, David Johnson and Gene Frumkin. They opened the door, invited me in and fed me the best in poetry and ideas. I was also an active member of the KIVA Club, the Native student organization. We were politically active, were deeply involved in social justice issues. They were my family. We also had the Living Batch Bookstore across the street on Central which became a central meeting place.”
Her body of work soon gained accolades around the world and in the most prestigious literary circles including the Ruth Lily Poetry Prize, the Academy of American Poets Wallace Stevens Award, a PEN US Literary Award for Nonfiction, two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships and this little thing they like to call a Guggenheim Fellowship.
And in 2019 Harjo, a daughter of the Mvskoke/Creek Nation, was named to be the 23rd U.S. Poet Laureate—the nation’s first Native American poet to receive such an honor. She is now on her third term and always remembers UNM as the spark that sent her on her journey.
“I would not be where I am without what was given me in my education at UNM. My professors and the staff held my trust as they challenged me to develop my art and vision. When I taught there at UNM and anywhere else, I felt that I was the continuation of a genealogy of sorts of trust and challenge. My position as U.S. Poet Laureate is a continuation of that legacy.“
Harjo’s pending New Mexico homecoming is for the annual Rudolfo and Patricia Anaya Lecture on the Literature of the Southwest. This year’s lecture is a special one, because this will be the 10th annual lecture and the first since Mr. Anaya’s passing in 2020. Anaya had long welcomed artists over the last decade to share their work with UNM and the Albuquerque community. His establishment of a creative writing department and his own literary legacy lives on in this yearly lecture series. The 10th annual lecture honors Mr. Anaya’s and welcomes back Lobo alumni and master of their craft like Ms. Harjo.
Harjo’s lecture takes place Tuesday, October 5 at 7pm in the Albuquerque Journal Theatre inside the National Hispanic Cultural Center (1701 Fourth St. SW). A book-signing and reception follow. The lecture is free and open to the public. Reserve a ticket at my.nmculture.org/30/2459.