Joy Harjo Additional Biography


(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Joy Harjo’s collections of poetry express a close relationship to the environment and the particularities of the Native American and white cultures from which she is descended. She is an enrolled member of the Creek tribe, the mother of two children (a son, Phil and a daughter, Rainy Dawn), and a grandmother. Various forms of art were always a part of her life, even in childhood. Her grandmother and aunt were painters. In high school, she trained as a dancer and toured as a dancer and actress with one of the first Indian dance troupes in the country. When her tour ended, she returned to Oklahoma, where her son was born when she was seventeen years old. She left her son’s father to move to New Mexico, enrolling at the university as a pre-med student. After one semester, she decided that her interest in art was compelling enough to engage in its formal study.

Educated at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she later worked as an instructor, she received a bachelor’s degree from the University of New Mexico and a master’s degree in fine arts from the University of Iowa. She was a professor of English at both the University of Arizona and the University of New Mexico.

Harjo has received numerous awards for her writing, including the William Carlos Williams award from the Poetry Society of America, the Delmore Schwartz Award, the American Indian Distinguished Achievement in the Arts Award, and two creative writing fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts. Harjo’s poetry has been increasingly influenced by her interest in music, especially jazz. She plays the saxophone in a band, Poetic Justice, that combines the musical influences of jazz and reggae with her poetry. Many of her poems are tributes to the various musicians that have influenced her work, including saxophonists John Coltrane and Jim Pepper.

The history and mythology of her people and the current state of their oppression also are prominent themes in her work. As she states in the explanation of her poem “Witness,” “The Indian wars never ended in this country . . . we were hated for our difference by our enemies.”


(Critical Survey of Native American Literature)

Author Profile

After study at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Joy Harjo finished a B.A. degree at the University of New Mexico and an M.F.A. at the University of Iowa. Teaching positions include the Institute of American Indian Arts, University of Colorado, University of Arizona, and University of New Mexico. She is active in the National Association for Third World Writers; honors include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Arizona Commission on the Arts. She has two children, Phil and Rainy Dawn.

Harjo’s poetry has won many honors. In Mad Love and War (1990) received the William Carlos Williams Award of the Poetry Society of...

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(Poets and Poetry in America)

Joy Harjo was born Joy Foster in 1951 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, to Allen W. Foster and Wynema Baker Foster. Harjo’s mother was of mixed Cherokee and French heritage, while her father was a full-blooded Creek Indian. Her mother was nineteen when Harjo was born and had three more children in the next six years. Harjo’s childhood was not a happy one, as her father drank and had extramarital affairs. He abused his family physically and emotionally. Her mother divorced Foster and remarried another abusive man. Harjo eventually came into conflict with her stepfather and left the house.

Harjo spent her high school years at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The school’s population consisted of members of various tribes. Though the school did not provide the best education, Harjo felt she benefited from the experience. She toured with an all-Native American dance troupe and became involved with a fellow student named Phil Wilmon. In 1968, the tour ended, and Harjo graduated, returned to Oklahoma, and gave birth to her son, Phil Dayn.

Harjo returned to Sante Fe without Wilmon and enrolled at the University of New Mexico. She eventually became an English and creative writing major. She also met poet Simon Ortiz. Ortiz and Harjo became lovers, and he fathered Harjo’s daughter, Rainy Dawn. Harjo split with Ortiz and graduated in 1976.

Harjo then went to the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She faced difficulties as a single mother of two but eventually earned her M.F.A. She next studied filmmaking at the Anthropology Film Center in Santa Fe. She also taught at the college level, including at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. She later left New Mexico, living in Los Angeles and later Honolulu. Harjo took her last name when she became an enrolled member of the Muskogee tribe at the age of nineteen. Harjo was the surname of her paternal grandmother.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The painter, activist, musician, mother, and poet Joy Harjo, born Joy Foster, does not fit into any one category. Her poetry reflects a multitude of concerns, and although she is known primarily as a Native American poet, her work, by incorporating Native American symbology and consciousness, transcends specifics and becomes universal.

Joy Harjo left her Oklahoma home at the age of sixteen to attend the Institute of American Indian Arts. After graduation, she enrolled in the University of New Mexico where in 1976 she earned her B.A., and two years later she received a M.F.A. from the University of Iowa. She has taught at several institutions, including Arizona State University and the Institute of American Indian...

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(Poetry for Students)

Joy Harjo was born in May 1951 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She is typically considered a Native American poet, and this is the part of her ancestry...

(The entire section is 515 words.)