The Academy of American Poets announced on Thursday that Joy Harjo has won the Wallace Stevens Award, recognizing her outstanding and proven mastery in the art of poetry. The award carries a $100,000 stipend. Ms. Harjo was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma (where she still lives), and is a member of the Mvskoke/Creek Nation. She received a BA degree from the University of New Mexico before earning an MFA from the Iowa Writers Workshop in 1978.
Upon bestowing the award on Ms. Harjo, Academy of American Poets Chancellor Alicia Ostiker said: “Throughout her extraordinary career as poet, storyteller, musician, memoirist, playwright and activist, Joy Harjo has worked to expand our American language, culture, and soul. A Creek Indian and student of First Nation history, Harjo is rooted simultaneously in the natural world, in earth—especially the landscape of the American southwest— and in the spirit world. Aided by these redemptive forces of nature and spirit, incorporating native traditions of prayer and myth into a powerfully contemporary idiom, her visionary justice-seeking art transforms personal and collective bitterness to beauty, fragmentation to wholeness, and trauma to healing.”
Ms. Harjo is also a performer. She has appeared on HBO’s Def Poetry Jam both in the U.S. and internationally. She plays saxophone with her band Poetic Justice, and has released four award-winning CDs of original music. In 2009, she won a Native American Music Award for Best Female Artist of the Year.
Here is a sample of her poetry:
To pray you open your whole self
To sky, to earth, to sun, to moon
To one whole voice that is you.
And know there is more
That you can’t see, can’t hear;
Can’t know except in moments
Steadily growing, and in languages
That aren’t always sound but other
Circles of motion.
Like eagle that Sunday morning
Over Salt River. Circled in blue sky
In wind, swept our hearts clean
With sacred wings.
We see you, see ourselves and know
That we must take the utmost care
And kindness in all things.
Breathe in, knowing we are made of
All this, and breathe, knowing
We are truly blessed because we
Were born, and die soon within a
True circle of motion,
Like eagle rounding out the morning
We pray that it will be done
In addition to the Wallace Stevens Award, the Academy awarded Kevin Young’s Book of Hours the $25,000 Lenore Marshall poetry prize for the year’s best collection, and Kathryn Nuernberger’s The End of Pink won a $1,000 prize for the best second book of poetry. Marie Howe was given a $25,000 fellowship, and Blake N Campbell received a $1,000 award for student poetry for his work, Bioluminescence.
The Academy also announced two translation awards. Todd Portnowitz received a $25,000 prize and five-week residency at the American Academy in Rome for his work on Italian poet Pierluigi Cappello’s Go Tell It to the Emperor, and Roger Greenwald’s was given a $1,000 prize for his English-language edition of the Swedish poet Gunnar Harding’s Guarding the Air.
Congratulations to Ms. Harjo and all the Academy of American Poets awards winners!