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Joy Harjo

Joy Harjo with Frank Waln, Sicangu Lakota indigeous rapeper and performing artist, at arts convention

Joy Harjo with Frank Waln, Sicangu Lakota indigenous rapper and performing artist, at a convention held by the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation in October. Harjo is a founding member of the organization’s board.

Joy Harjo is an English professor who has taught both undergraduate and graduate courses in poetry, memoir, and Native American literature. At UT for three years, she is the John C. Hodges Chair of Excellence in English.

“Part of my job is to encourage and inspire students—assist them as they discover their passion. I like to involve them in work that will help them in their careers. In one of my favorite courses, the students have been gaining experience in what it takes to put together a Norton literary anthology. One of the course requirements was to write an anthology proposal. The students have all written their own anthology proposals. I believe some proposals could actually lead to book deals.”

Why this field?

Among Harjo’s earliest literary influences are the song lyrics her mother used to write. “Poetry and music have always been bound up with each other, historically and in my life too.”

After completing graduate school at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, she began teaching writing courses at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico, before being hired at the University of Colorado in Denver.

“I consider myself an artist,” Harjo said. “The teaching thing just kind of happened, and it’s an art in itself. Teaching has taught me.”

Outside interests

In addition to teaching classes full time, Harjo has an enormous range of outside interests. She has published eight books of poetry, a memoir, two children’s books, an anthology of Native American women’s writing, several screenplays, and two plays.

In her free time, she enjoys weightlifting and biking.

“When I lived in Hawaii, I got into outrigger canoe racing, and I even got to race in Australia.”

Favorite spot on campus

The UT Agriculture Farm Mound, also known as the Indian Mound. Located at the corner of Joe Johnson Drive and Chapman Drive, it is a burial mound built by Native Americans as early as 644 CE. The area is now surrounded by a garden.

“The mound being here means that this is indigenous land belonging to Creeks and then later Cherokees.”