WashU Expert: First Native American U.S. poet laureate will inspire the nation

Community Engagement; Diversity

Joy Harjo, a member of the Muscogee Creek Nation, has been selected as the 23rd U.S. poet laureate, a move that will inspire Native American people throughout the country, says Kellie Thompson, director of the Kathryn M. Buder Center for American Indian Studies at Washington University in St. Louis.

“Her selection will inspire us in expected ways — maybe to become poets and artists — but also in unexpected ways, like speaking our truth in spaces where it typically has not been heard, as Native American people and as women,” said Thompson, a member of the Seneca Nation of Indians.


Harjo is the first Native American to hold the position of “nation’s official poet.”

“Joy Harjo’s words and stories ring true for many,” Thompson said. “She has an ability to integrate culture, social justice, everyday life and values into the works she produces, and does so in such a way that allows all people to see themselves in her writing.

“This speaks to her abilities. Her work brings joy to Native people across all of Indian Country, and I’m thrilled to see her honored in this way. I cannot think of a more deserving individual.”

Harjo has written eight books of poetry, in addition to her memoir and two books for young adults. Her book of poetry, “In Mad Love and War,” won the American Book Award. She has also taught at the University of California, Los Angeles, and at the University of Tennessee.

The Buder Center was founded to provide scholarships for American Indians and has grown into one of the most respected centers in the nation for academic advancement and study of American Indian issues related to social work.  It recruits qualified American Indian scholars; provides student support in a demanding course of study; develops curriculum; conducts research; and engages in policy development that directly impacts Indian Country.