The International Festival of Arts & Ideas is honored to feature United States Poet Laureate Joy Harjo in conversation with playwright and director Madeline Sayet. Harjo, the first Native American Poet Laureate and a member of the Muscogee Nation, will reflect on her award-winning body of work, which includes nine books of poetry, two memoirs, and six music albums. With Sayet, a member of the Mohegan Tribe, she will focus on her acclaimed poetry collection An American Sunrise: Poems, the Festival’s selection for 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. 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.”