Download Crazy Brave Study Guide

Subscribe Now



Published in 2012, Crazy Brave is a memoir by Joy Harjo, who is the current US Poet Laureate and a member of the Muscogee Nation, an Oklahoma-based Native American tribe.

Plot Summary

Harjo employs a mix of personal memories, poems, stories, and flashbacks about the lives of family members to construct a narrative with both ordinary and mythic elements. By invoking the cardinal directions to structure the sections of her book, she navigates the course of her young life and arrives at the moment that lead to her to poetry.

After a prologue that describes her view of Earth before she is born, Harjo describes her childhood in the "East" section. East symbolizes the sunrise, beginnings, and Harjo's birth state of Oklahoma, where her ancestors were forced to move during the Trail of Tears. She describes her parents and notes their shared love of music as well as their ancestry: her father is Muscogee, and her mother is partially of Cherokee decent.

In this section, Harjo describes her strong connections to nature and spirituality as a child, during which time she relies on her dreams and what she calls the "knowing" to guide her through life—including her father's alcoholism and a near miss with polio. Her creative side appears in kindergarten, when she discovers that "For me drawing [i]s dreaming on paper" and poetry is "singing on paper." She also describes the importance of remembering ancestral stories and songs, and she talks about her struggle to be brave.

In the "North" section, Harjo describes the challenges she experiences during her later childhood and teen years. Her parents divorce, and her mother enters an abusive marriage with a white man who psychologically and physically abuses them. Harjo turns to the visual arts because singing, writing, and participating in theater trigger her stepfather's cruelty. She writes, "I imagine this place in the story as a long silence."

As her situation becomes desperate, she turns to drinking and fantasizes about moving to San Francisco. Through her "knowing," she realizes that path will not end well. Her life significantly improves once she begins attending the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico. There, she finds a community, experiences friendships and rivalries, and grows as a person and as an artist.

When Harjo's narrative turns to the "West" section, she encounters new hardships as her time at the IAIA comes to an end. Pregnant with her boyfriend's child, she moves back to...

(The entire section is 624 words.)