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Poet Reads From Her Work

Native American writers are creating a body of literature that has its roots firmly planted in a rich and ancient oral tradition. But stories once told around campfires have evolved into stories grounded in the present as these writers explore what it means to be Native American. Joy Harjo's several books of poetry acknowledge their indebtedness to those oral roots and forge a link between the traditions of the past and today. "We are evolving as tribal cultures," says Harjo. "We're viable, living cultures, not artifacts as we are still depicted in most forms by others. All Native American writers are links in the growth and expansion of our cultures. It's a natural progression," she says.

Harjo was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1951 and is a member of the Muscogee (or Creek) Tribe. She was graduated from high school in 1968, from the Institute of American Indian Arts, and from the University of New Mexico in 1976. She received her M.F.A. in creative writing from the Iowa Writer's Workshop at the University of Iowa in 1978. She also completed the filmmaking program at the Anthropology Film Center. Harjo has received numerous awards for her art, including the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Native Writers' Circle of the Americas, the American Book Award, and has been the recipient of two NEA Creative Writing Fellowships. Among her publications are five books of poetry with another forthcoming. Her most recent publication is the The Woman Who Fell from the Sky (1994). Harjo does not limit herself to poetry: she has also narrated The Native Americans (1994) series on TBS and the Emmy Award winning Navajo Codetalkers (1994) for National Geographic. She also plays saxophone with her band, Joy Harjo and Poetic Justice. The band performed at the 1996 Cultural Olympiad in Atlanta and has toured the United States and Europe.