Joy Harjo first Native American to be named US Poet Laureate

Writer is member of Muscogee Creek Nation

By AJ Willingham, CNN
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Poet and author Joy Harjo

(CNN) - Poet and author Joy Harjo has been named as the United States' 23rd Poet Laureate. Harjo, a member of the Muscogee Creek Nation, will be the first Native American poet to hold the honor.

"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 a release. "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."

In addition to her prolific poetry collections, Harjo, 68, is also an author and performer. She has published a memoir and fiction titles for children and young adults. She also plays saxophone and has appeared on HBO's "Def Poetry Jam."

"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 a release from the Library of Congress.

Harjo's work draws on symbolism and traditions important to Native American culture, and she also uses her position within the literary community to discuss difficult issues like colonialism, violence against women and the relationship between modernization and traditionalism.

The Library of Congress appoints a Poet Laureate every year, and the role has existed in some capacity since 1937. The position "seeks to raise the national consciousness to a greater appreciation of the reading and writing of poetry" through readings, public appearances and lectures.

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