Ucross to honor United States Poet Laureate Joy Harjo

Joy Harjo reads from one of her 13 published books of poetry, “The Woman Who Fell From the Sky,” at the Strater Theater on Feb., 14, 2015 in Durango, Colo.
Photo Credit: Robert L. Ortiz | SU Drum archive

Harjo is the first Native American Artist to Be Appointed Poet Laureate

Ucross, a world-renowned artist residency program and creative lab for the arts located in northeast Wyoming, is thrilled to congratulate poet, musician, playwright, and author Joy Harjo, an alumnus of the Sundance Institute Playwrights and Composers Retreat at Ucross, for being named the United States Poet Laureate by the Library of Congress in June. Harjo, a member of the Muscogee Creek Nation in Tulsa, Okla., is the first Native American to hold this post, and will join a long list of acclaimed writers that includes Elizabeth Alexander, Billy Collins, Rita Dove, Louise Glück, Juan Felipe Herrera, Tracy K. Smith, and Natasha Trethewey.

Harjo grew up painting, surrounded by the artwork of her grandmother, and began writing as a college student at the University of New Mexico. Her work draws on First Nation storytelling and histories, as well as feminist and social justice issues, and frequently incorporates indigenous myths, symbols, and values. She has published eight books of poetry with a ninth, An American Sunrise, set for release in September, as well as five award-winning albums of original music, two fiction books for children and young adults, and a memoir titled Crazy Brave. Her numerous accolades include the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, the New Mexico Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts, the Josephine Miles Poetry Award, the Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American Poets, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Native Writers Circle of the Americas, and the William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America. She is also a founding board member and director of the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation.

Harjo was in residence at the Sundance Institute Playwrights and Composers Retreat at Ucross in 2013. The prestigious three-week program, which reached its milestone 20th anniversary in 2019 under Artistic Director Philip Himberg, brings playwrights, composers, and dramaturgs together for the opportunity to create in world-class facilities in a breathtaking landscape. Her fellow artists at the 2013 retreat included Radha Blank, Michael John LaChiusa, Justin Levine, Matthew Paul Olmos, and Stephen Wadsworth; the retreat that year was co-led by Christopher Hibma, who currently serves as Director of the Sundance Institute Theatre Program.

“The imagination finds refreshment in lands rich with plants and creatures of all kinds,” Harjo said of her time at Ucross. “Ucross is rich in spirit food.”

“It was an honor to welcome Joy to Ucross six years ago, and it’s exciting to follow her artistic career,” said Ucross President Sharon Dynak. “With her brilliant work in so many disciplines, she is greatly deserving of this national recognition.”

The recently created Ucross Fellowship for Native American Visual Artists reflects the foundation’s commitment to fostering Native American artistic talent. The Fellowship supports the work of contemporary Native American artists at all stages of their professional careers, awarding residencies that also include a public exhibition in the Ucross Art Gallery (located at 30 Big Red Lane, Clearmont, Wyo.) and an exhibition brochure. Four visual artists: Sydney Pursel, Brenda Mallory, Heidi Brandow, and Luzene Hill have been awarded Fellowships during its first two years.  It is open to disciplines that include, but are not limited to: painting, sculpture, printmaking, photography, video, performance art, installation, ceramics, and collaborative projects. Ucross plans to expand the Fellowship to include writers in 2020. The next deadline for the Fellowship is Sept. 1, 2019, for a residency in spring 2020.

Along with Harjo, additional esteemed alumni of the Sundance Institute’s Playwrights and Composers Retreat at Ucross include Billy Porter, Hannah Gadsby, Michael R. Jackson, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, Ricky Ian Gordon, Jeanine Tesori, and Dave Malloy. Porter, Jacobs-Jenkins, and Jackson recently took part in the premiere of the Ucross Spotlight series, a nationwide series of performances, live readings, moderated panels, and cultural events celebrating and supporting the foundation’s numerous esteemed alumni, with more events to be announced later this year.

Ucross is committed to fostering Native American talent through its Fellowship for Native American Visual Artists.

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