Joy Harjo (Creek)
    (b. 1951)

    Contributing Editor: C. B. Clark

    Classroom Issues and Strategies

    It's important to make certain that students read the biographical notes and footnotes provided in the text. Consider also using audiotapes of Harjo reading and discussing her own work.

    Major Themes, Historical Perspectives, and Personal Issues

    Imperialism, colonialism, dependency, nostalgia for the old ways, reverence for grandparents and elders, resentment of conditions of the present, plight of reservation and urban Indians, natural world, sense of hopelessness, power of the trickster, idea that the feminine is synonymous with heritage, deadly compromise, symbol of all that has been lost (such as the land), tension between the desire to retrieve the past and the inevitability of change, the arrogance of white people, problems of half-breeds (or mixed-bloods).

    Significant Form, Style, or Artistic Conventions

    Harjo uses free verse. She is aware of classic European form, but chooses not to use it. She does try oral chant, as in "She Had Some Horses." She is not in any school, except American Indian.

    Original Audience

    Ask the question: Is there any audience outside American Indians? The second audience is the student and the third is the general reader.

    Questions for Reading and Discussion/Approaches to Writing

    1. Who are the Creeks? What is their origin? What impact did removal have on the Five Civilized Tribes? Where are the Creeks today? How are they organized? What was the role of the Christian missionary? What is traditional Creek religion? What is an urban Indian? Does Harjo travel much and is that reflected in her poetry?

    2. Hand out a reading list, containing ethnographic, historical, and contemporary works on the Creeks. Hand out a theme list, containing such items as removal, acculturation, identity. Hand out a subject list containing topics such as removal, alcoholism, and jails. Ask the students to write an essay on each of the lists. Require some library research for the essays, which will provide background for the poetry.


    There are no separate works on Harjo. Bits on her can be found in critical pieces on her work, in collections, in autobiographical pieces, and through interviews.

    Published works that deal in part with her include Joseph Bruchac's Survival This Way and Andrew O. Wiget's Native American Literature, part of the Twayne series, as well as Laura Coltelli, Winged Words: American Indian Writers Speak, and World Literature Today, Spring, 1992.