Poet Laureate Joy Harjo brings “An American Sunrise” to Fargo – InForum


FARGO — For nearly 50 years, poet Joy Harjo has written and spoken about the lives of American Indians. Her work led her to be named the 2019 United States Poet Laureate, the first Native American to hold the position.

“If my work does nothing else, when I come to the end of my life, I want indigenous people to be considered human beings,” she told ‘Fresh Air’. from NPR last fall.

A member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, his words resonate across cultures. On Monday evening, February 7, she will read and discuss her latest collection of poetry, 2019’s “An American Sunrise,” at the Plains Art Museum in downtown Fargo. The event is the culmination of the National Endowment for the Arts Big Read program, which has featured a number of book-related events over the past four months.

“It’s just exciting to see,” says Dawn Morgan of The Spirit Room in Fargo, who received an NEA grant for The Big Read here.

The program begins with a supply of books. Organizations can choose a title and apply for grants to help fund different events to engage readers and encourage discussion about the book.

The Humanities Council of North Dakota helped fund the event.

Morgan knew who Harjo was when she saw her name on this year’s Big Read list.

“When his name came out, I didn’t hesitate for a second. It had to be Joy,” she said. “She has been an icon for writers throughout my life.”

Harjo has been very active since taking over as Poet Laureate, including writing her first play, publishing her second memoir, releasing her seventh album – she plays saxophone – and was recently named Poet-in-Residence at the Bob Dylan Center in his hometown. , Tulsa, Okla. The poet has been so busy that she could not be interviewed.

Part of the Big Read is making the book available to the community, and the Spirit Room has partnered with the Plains Art Museum, Fargo Public Libraries, and Zandbroz Variety to distribute 500 copies of “American Sunrise.” Beginning in October, the Spirit Room helped promote community-wide events related to The Big Read.

Among those who received copies were more than a dozen visual artists with regional ties. Laura Youngbird, the former director of Native American art programs at the Plains Art Museum, reached out to a number of artists, asking them to read “An American Sunrise” and create a work in response.

The result is “Displaced,” which just opened at the Spirit Room where it will be on display through February, before moving to libraries in West Fargo, Moorhead, and Wahpeton, ND.

Su Legatt’s “Don’t Look Back” is part of the “Displaced” exhibit at the Spirit Room in downtown Fargo.

Contributed / Su Legatt

“It’s a beautiful book,” said Youngbird, a member of the Minnesota Chippewa, Grand Portage Band. “Sometimes it’s hard to read. Some memories are hard.

Some of the artists found Harjo’s writings on themes of cruelty endured by native people, such as Trail of Tears, to be too traumatic. Others were more determined to create after reading his verses.

Youngbird points to artist John Hitchcock, who exhibited at the Plains Art Museum in 2018. The Madison, Wisconsin-based artist was so inspired by the book that he read it three times and listened to a recording of it then. that he was creating a series of prints inspired by Harjo’s words.

“People reacted differently to things. Even though they chose the same poem, they had different perspectives,” says Youngbird.

Artist Laura Youngbird.

Contribution / Plains Art Museum

Naomi RaMona Schliesman found inspiration in Harjo’s poem, “Falling from the Night Sky”, and the entry that followed:

“Our knowledge is based on the land’s origin stories, genealogy and ancestry. If you know the branches of the tree of relationships between tribal clans and family members, then you know who you are, said the panther to her cubs.

Naomi RaMona Schlieman’s painting, “Elder”, was inspired by her great-great-grandmother.

Contributed / Naomi RaMona Schliesman

She drew her own family tree and the story of her great-great-grandmother Mary Lehman, a member of the Blackfoot tribe who married Schliesman’s German-American great-great-great-grandfather. Their love story has been passed down and the artist from Fergus Falls, Minnesota created the ‘Elder’ painting in honor of his ancestor.

The 14 participating artists are diverse, including Frank Big Bear, Liselotte Erdrich, Falcon Gott, Karen Perry-Anderson, Felix Youngbird, and Jaime Craig, among others. Some are Native American, some are not. Youngbird also tried to find new Americans to see how the refugees would react to the book.

Heidi Goldberg, who teaches printmaking at Concordia College, used a weaving technique to show how relationships are linked. Moorhead artist Su Legatt created digital prints on layered cotton vellum and colored tissue paper accents. The vaporous effect is enhanced by the pieces mounted with magnets to hang on the wall.

“I want them to feel like a fleeting memory or an understated relic,” she explained in a note.

Another artist was inspired by Harjo’s other artistic outlet, playing the saxophone.

Morgan has hired Max Johnk to play jazz ahead of Harjo’s play and hopes she’ll join the jam.

“Her bravery in taking risks, working hard and raising her children as a single mother while writing, her life is extraordinary,” says Morgan. “The experience of getting to know Joy through her work has been magical and incredibly beautiful.”

Which: Joy Harjo
When: 6:30-8:30 p.m. Monday 7 February
Or: Plains Museum of Art, 704 1st Ave. N, Fargo
Information: Free and open to the public

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