Crazy Brave features the following people, who play key roles in Joy Harjo's life during her childhood in Oklahoma, her time at the Institute of American Indian Arts, and her university years in New Mexico.
In her narrative, Harjo embarks on a journey to overcome hardships and learn how to be brave. She learns to rely on herself and develops the courage to make necessary changes in her life. Having worked through the challenges represented by the four cardinal directions that provide the memoir's structure, Harjo begins the task of turning her life toward a more positive direction.
Allen W. Foster Jr.
Harjo describes her biological father—Allen W. Foster Jr. of the Muscogee (Creek) tribe—as passionate, sensitive, and in love with her mother. He is alcoholic and struggles to cope with life, leading Harjo to compare him to the element of water. His drinking and abusive behavior lead to her parents' divorce.
Wynema Jewell Baker
Harjo's mother, Wynema Jewell Baker—who is of Cherokee and European heritage—is a beautiful and talented singer. Harjo compares her mother to the element of fire, noting her parents' love but also their incompatibility. After divorcing Harjo's father, Wynema marries a white man and experiences another abusive relationship. She stops singing and loses her fiery spirit, often siding with her husband over the children. However, her mother supports Harjo at crucial moments, such as helping her to enroll in the Institute of American Indian Arts.
Harjo's stepfather deceives the family into thinking he has good intentions, but after the marriage between him and Harjo's mother, he becomes cruel and possessive. He isolates his wife from her friends, discourages her from singing, and physically abuses Harjo and her siblings (Margaret, Allen, and Boyd). Due to her stepfather's abuse, Harjo is compelled to leave home and finds a better environment at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe.
Harjo's University Friends
At the IAIA, Harjo makes friends with students from diverse Native backgrounds. With Navajo student Herbie Nez, she shares a love of music. Lupita comes from Mexico but claims to be from Venus and aspires to be an opera singer. Harjo's roommate, Georgette Romero, competes with Lupita over Herbie's cousin Clarence. Harjo falls in love with a Cherokee student and becomes pregnant with his child.
Harjo's First Husband and Mother-in-Law
After finishing at the IAIA, Harjo moves with her boyfriend (later her first husband) to the Cherokee town of Tahlequah, Oklahoma. Her husband does not live up to the promise he showed at school and fails to find steady employment. Harjo's mother-in-law dislikes her; at one point, she blows cigarette smoke on Harjo's face, an act her husband...
(The entire section is 669 words.)