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A Brief Biography of Joy Harjo

Updated on May 25, 2016
ChaninDesiree profile image

Chanin is a college instructor & freelance writer. She holds a MFA in Creative Writing focusing on Fiction & English Language and Literature

Woman and Poet

Joy Harjo's poetry is incredible to say the least. The way in which she combines the experiences of living and living as a woman in both a major metropolis and within the traditions, lore, and beliefs of her Native American heritage gives the reader a new view of everyday life and every day events. Not only is she an incredible feminist writer, but she also uses ecofeminism in many areas to help portray her themes (Nixon, 1). To look at Harjo as just a feminist writer or just a Native American writer to explain her depth is only looking at half of her work, just the surface. The fact is that Harjo includes not only female sexuality and spirituality, but also delves into the effect of social and political issues that affect not just women in general, but especially women of color, those with dual identities, and those around the world (DeShazer, 569). She uses these themes with the help of nature to give her audience a glimpse into a reality they may have not understood or misunderstood.

The first step in understanding of the work of Harjo is that the reader must have a basic knowledge of Harjo’s background, her history, her story of living between two identities, American and Native American (Nixon 1). This does not mean the audience needs to be versed in these issues, but to keep these concepts at the forefront and in analyzing the work. She uses historical events, personal experiences as well as tribal history, or events of the day in her writing. She writes to give voice to the concept or persona that has no voice loud enough to be heard. (Jaskowski & Harjo, 8).

The finished product is always an incredible work of art in that her use of language, the body, and both the sexuality and the spirituality of the persona through nature is the vehicle used to explore the social and political ideologies of women. It is also obvious that in nature the earth, often called mother nature or mother earth, is representative of the female body (Andrews 2000; DeShazer 569; Hussain 36; Nixon 1). The use of the landscape and nature to depict the female body is accentuated in the ironic tones that convey the oppression of people, not just Native Americans, but women. Keeping with her traditions of being one with nature, then the only option is to use the mother to help explain the fears, loves, excitement and destruction through the safety The symbolism of nature and woman also allows Harjo to explain the societal and economic issues in which women are powerless. Through her work she wants to empower those who are oppressed and downtrodden. She wants everyone to be equal in all ways, just as the earth wants to prosper and not fall into a wasteland. Harjo’s use of nature gives the reader the necessary tools to understand her poetry and prose without having to know all the information about an issue. She spells it out in a way everyone can understand and still stays true to herself.

Joy Harjo


Andrews, Jennifer. “In the belly of a laughing God: Reading Humor and Irony in the Poetry of Joy Harjo.” American Indian Quarterly. 24.2 (Spring 2000): 200-218. Literature Online. University of Maryland University College Online. 21 June 2009. Web. >

DeShazer, Mary K. (ed.). “Joy Harjo.” The Longman Anthology of Women’s Literature. (2001): 568 – 572 New York: Longman. Print.

Hussain, Azfar. "Joy Harjo and Her Poetics as Praxis: A 'Postcolonial' Political Economy of the Body, Land, Labor, and Language." Wicazo Sa Review. 15.2 (Fall 2000): 27-61. ProjectMuse. University of Maryland University College Online 21 June 2009. Web. >

Jaskoski, Helen & Joy Harjo. "A MELUS Interview: Joy Harjo." MELUS. 16.1 (Spring 1989-Spring 1990): 5-13. JSTOR. University of Maryland University College Online. 21 June 2009. Web.

Nixon, Angelique V. "Poem and Tale as Double Helix in Joy Harjo's A Map to the Next World." Studies in American Indian Literatures. 18:1 (Spring 2006): 1-21,99. Literature Online. University of Maryland University College Online. 21 June 2009. Web.


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