MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — A distinguished international voice who uses her talents for the purpose of inspiring justice, truth and compassion will visit West Virginia University this week. Joy Harjo, the 23rd U.S. Poet Laureate and the first Native American to hold the position, will visit Morgantown’s campus to give a public poetry reading on Tuesday, April 5 at 7 p.m. in the Mountainlair Ballrooms and virtually via Zoom.
“This is an opportunity to celebrate Indigenous leadership, talent and voices, especially the singular Joy Harjo,” said Bonnie Brown, coordinator of the WVU Native American Studies Program who is hosting Harjo’s visit. “Native Americans are serving in prominent public roles, including Deb Haaland, the first Native American U.S. Cabinet secretary, and there’s a proliferation of acclaimed works by Native musicians, authors, filmmakers, online content creators and others. Harjo’s visit to campus is a distinct reminder that the First Peoples have prevailed, and are still here, inspiring generations yet to come.”
A native of Tulsa, Oklahoma and a citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, Harjo’s laureateship is part of the growing awareness and appreciation of Indigenous representation in all facets of society – from government, the arts, human rights advocacy, to environmental stewardship and beyond, Brown added. Her visit to WVU accentuates her accomplishment and many other important ‘firsts’ for Native people throughout the country.
As only the second poet laureate to visit WVU, students, faculty and staff, state and local organizations, and community members as young as elementary students will pay tribute, honoring Harjo’s legacy and celebrating poetry, literature and art.
To showcase how Harjo’s work has impacted members of the WVU community and their sense of purpose, participants from on and off campus are participating in a Tribute Exhibit before she takes the stage. Mylan Park Elementary students have painted a watercolor banner to welcome Harjo to West Virginia and a collaborative painting based on her poem, “How to Write a Poem in a Time of War” to display during the event. Harjo and other poets have helped inspire the students to visualize the connection between words and art. Other exhibitors include the Appalachian Prison Book Project, Literacy Volunteers of Monongalia and Preston Counties, and the Madwomen in the Attic Poetry Workshops.
The WVU Humanities Center is collaborating with Native American Studies for Harjo’s visit.
“Ms. Harjo’s visit to campus has auspicious timing,” Center Director Renée Nicholson said. “When the invitation was first extended, there was no way to know that the world would be witnessing harrowing events in Ukraine coupled with economic strains, a lingering pandemic and a host of state and national challenges,” Nicholson said. “Her poetry sings with the potential for healing. Her reverence for nature and her deep connectedness with Indigenous storytelling give us a place to pause and deeply contemplate what it means to be alive through her poetry and her prose.”
Harjo’s event will help the University kick off National Poetry Month celebrations. Book sales and a flute performance by Native American Music Award winner and Wheeling-born artist, Cody Blackbird, will precede Harjo’s presentation beginning at 6:30 p.m.
Following Harjo’s remarks, Brown and Nicholson, will be available for media interviews.
CONTACT: Jessica McGee
Eberly College of Arts and Sciences
812-371-0876 (mobile); [email protected]