Poet’s work celebrates diverse themes

by Life Editor Tyler Hargett

As Alabama begins its bicentennial celebration, the 34th annual UNA Writer’s Series is bringing in writers to represent the state.

Poet Joy Harjo was the series’ first choice, Writer Series Chair Pamela Kingsbury said. 

Harjo, an award-winning poet and musician, will be the guest speaker for the series March 15, where she will perform and read some of her works.

She previously spoke at the 2009 entry in the Writer’s Series.

The event will take place in the Guillot University Center’s Performance Center at 11 a.m. A book signing and reception will follow her performance.

Kingsbury said Harjo is a great representative for Alabama because of her interest in the state’s arts, her ancestry and her involvement in civil rights. 

Harjo, a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, has written eight collections of poetry.

She commonly uses her ancestry, as well as indigenous values and myths, as themes in her work. Because of her writings, many see her as an important part of the 1970s literary Native American Renaissance.

However, Kingsbury said Harjo does not always focus on her ancestry.

“Some of her poems are just about how we live our lives, what it means to be human, what it means to be a citizen of the planet, what our role is and where we fit in nature,” she said.

Her work also sometimes includes themes of feminism and politics.

Besides writing, Harjo plays saxophone and sings and has released several award-winning CDs. She currently tours with her band, Arrow Dynamics.

She also writes a column in the Muscogee Nation News, is a founding board member of the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation and serves as professor and chair of excellence in creative writing at the University of Tennessee.

Kingsbury said she was one of Harjo’s students when she taught at the University of New Mexico.

“(She) spent a lot of time with us, very much wanted us to do our best work (and) didn’t encourage us to compete with each other but always compete with ourselves,” she said. “She exposed the classes to a much broader range of writing.”

Kingsbury said her experience and hard work has brought her fair in her career as she continues to evolve as a poet.

“She has worked very hard,” Kingsbury said. “It’s not just, ‘Oh, it was handed to her.’ She’s been working in poetry at her craft and artistry for over 50 years now.”

Junior Kacey Womack said students should attend the event to celebrate diversity in poets.

“No matter the field being discussed, diversity should be celebrated, and it does not hurt to expand your horizons in it,” she said. “Often times, it is easy to turn a blind eye to diversity, especially when it does not impact your life. (However), it is important to educate ourselves in all levels of diversity.”