Sunday, October 18, 2009

Joy Harjo

Joy Harjo was our Artist in Residence this semester. We (faculty, staff, students of UIUC's Native American House and American Indian Studies program) had a gathering on Thursday evening to mark the end of her residency. The photograph was taken by Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert.

On Thursday, October 7th, she gave a reading of her children's books, The Good Luck Cat and For a Girl Becoming. She read to a group of about 20 children and a larger group of adults. When reading The Good Luck Cat, she cued us when to make a purring sound as she read.

While here, she gave a concert at the student union. A few days later, we learned that she had won Best Female Artist at the 2009 Native American Music Awards

While reading For a Girl Becoming, she sang to us. Before reading For a Girl Becoming, Joy told us about moments of becoming, how they are powerful and dangerous, and that good words in those moments can help by providing a path. As she read For a Girl Becoming I thought of my own daughter and her moments of becoming.

Both of her children's books are rooted in her own life, in the experiences of her own family. Each one speaks to a different moment, a different need.

I'm taking a signed copy of For a Girl Becoming with me to the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in early November, to give away there at an event hosted by the American Indian Curriculum Services.

If you're available, please attend! Thursday, November 5, 2009, at 3:00 in the afternoon. Janice Rice and I will talk with you about children's books about American Indians. My talk will include both of Joy Harjo's picture books.

1 comment:

Jean Mendoza said...

I'm glad you're blogging about Joy Harjo! It was a pleasure to have her here on campus. I wanted to point out that many of her poems are thought-provoking as well as accessible in ways that make them suitable for adolescents, so readers who work with high schoolers may want to consider adding her work to the curriculum. During one of her readings, at least half of the audience was high school students. Even though "For a Girl, Becoming" has been published as a picture book, high school teachers should consider using it -- and perhaps, contrasting that version with the version Joy has posted online (which you -- Debbie -- linked to a few weeks ago). Joy said she made "some" changes but I didn't ask her about specific ones.

Oh, fantasy! If I were teaching the poem, I'd start with the online version, and maybe have students represent their impressions and responses by drawing, painting, collage or something -- and then introduce the picture book version.

At any rate: Joy's NAMI award is well-deserved. She's a very engaging, accessible and versatile performer and her poems feel very real.