2021 NEA Big Read

An American Sunrise

Join us as we celebrate US Poet Laureate Joy Harjo's An American Sunrise, the Festival’s choice as the 2021 NEA Big Read. Harjo’s poems sing of beauty and survival, illuminating a spirituality that connects her to her ancestors and thrums with the quiet anger of living amid the ruins of injustice.

This summer, the Festival will partner with the New Haven community to offer free events highlighting the book’s themes; past events have included book club discussions, panel discussions, lectures, exhibitions, and poetry readings. This year’s programming will include Native Writers in Conversation, a panel discussion on New England’s rich Indigenous literary traditions, an Indigenous food workshop, and programming in partnership with the New Haven Museum New Haven Free Public Library, and New Haven Pride Center.

All programming is presented free of charge. Live-streamed content will be available on FacebookYou Tube and on our homepage. All Facebook Live events are live captioned. Workshop content will require Zoom registration; info and links will be posted below as available.

Joy Harjo in Conversation with Madeline Sayet

An NEA Big Read Event



The first Native American Poet Laureate and a member of the Muscogee Nation, Joy Harjo will reflect on her award-winning body of work, including An American Sunrise: Poems, the Festival’s selection for the 2021 year’s NEA Big Read.

Listening to Earth: Indigenous Wisdom & Climate Futures

An NEA Big Read Event


watch video

Hear from Indigenous voices on the climate knowledge that has existed in their communities for generations and the practical solutions that can spur a better collective attempt at caring for our planet.

Indigenous Writers of Connecticut

An NEA Big Read Event in partnership with the New Haven Museum



This panel discussion will inform our deeper understanding of contemporary indigenous culture and the living writers - our neighbors - who represent its diversity and strength.


A descendant of storytellers and “one of our finest—and most complicated—poets” (Los Angeles Review of Books), Harjo continues her legacy with An American Sunrise: Poems. In the early 1800s, the Mvskoke people were forcibly removed from their original lands east of the Mississippi to Indian Territory, which is now part of Oklahoma. Two hundred years later, Harjo returns to her family’s lands and opens a dialogue with history, confronting the site where her people, and other indigenous families, essentially disappeared. She interweaves her personal life with tribal histories to create a space for renewed beginnings.

“Joy Harjo reminds us that creative voice is both sustenance and a means to liberation,” says Festival Executive Director Shelley Quiala. “In An American Sunrise, she offers a complex and beautiful intersection of despair, abundance and renewal. In this intense time of change and reckoning, her voice provides a clear reminder that the interconnectedness of our past, present and future nourish our imaginations.”

Every year, the Festival partners with NEA Big Read to host a series of events focused on a single book as a point of departure for conversations throughout New Haven. An initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest, the NEA Big Read broadens our understanding of our world, our communities, and ourselves through the joy of sharing a good book.

An American Sunrise is available at the New Haven Free Public Library.


Want to purchase your own copy of An American Sunrise? We encourage you to support our local independent booksellers.