Joy Harjo - Biography

By J Poet

Joy Harjo (Muskogee Creek) is a successful and critically acclaimed poet The Woman Who Fell From The Sky (1984 Norton), children’s author The Good Luck Cat (2000 Harcourt Brace) and an educator who teaches poetry, and Native Culture and Literature at UCLA, and a musician with two albums – Letter from the End of the 20th Century (1997 Silver Wave, 2004, Mekko) and Native Joy for Real (2003, Mekko) that have been highly influential in the Native community with their blend of jazz, reggae, Native, singer/songwriter and spoken word pieces.

Harjo’s first band, Poetic Justice, broke new ground with a hard to describe sound that blended jazz, Native music, pop and reggae with its leader’s sax playing and spoken lyrics. The band’s was part poetry, part performance art, but always deeply moving and brimming over with Indian soul. After years on the road, and one album, Letter from the End of the 20th Century (1997 Silver Wave, 2004, Mekko), Harjo and the band came to a mutual parting of ways. Poetic Justice evolved into the Red Reggae band Native Roots, while Harjo moved to Hawaii to consider her options.

While preparing her curriculum for her UCLA courses, Harjo started singing lessons. “I enjoyed doing my poetry and music thing, but when most people hear the word poetry, they run,” Harjo said in a recent interview. Taking her music and poetry to next level involved singing and as she started working on rhyming lyrics, she found the discipline freed up my voice both vocally and poetically. She began composing new music and again found herself facing the limitations of the music industry. “With my combination of  music, poetry and songs, there’s no category I fit into,” Harjo said. “What I’m really doing, is following poetry back to its root, which is song. In Native culture every activity is accompanied by music and song, and the poems turn into songs easily, it’s no stretch at all.”

Harjo’s second album, Native Joy for Real (2003 Mekko) is on her own label. The album fits easily into the general folk/pop singer/songwriter genre, but Harjo’s trademark intensity is evident. “Morning Song” features a memorable refrain, some smoky sax work, a subtle pow wow based beat, and an uplifting lyric. “Woman Hanging From the 13th Floor” combines poetry and singing to delve into the mind of a woman balanced between life and death, pleasure and pain, hope and despair, while “Remember” rides a jaunty reggae rhythm and celebrates the unity of all life on the planet. The unifying factor, is Harjo’s poetic and political vision and her roots in Native America. Her most recent effort is She Had Some Horses (2006, Mekko) on which harjo reads 20 poems; the disc also has three seminal tracks from her music CDs. She also voice over narration for the Turner Networks series The Native Americans (1994) and the Emmy award-winning Navajo Codetalkers for National Geographic.

Harjo’s published works include How We became Human, New and Selected Poems (2002 W.W. Norton,) A Map to the World: Poems and Tales (2000 W.W. Norton,) The Woman Who Fell from the Sky (1984 W.W. Norton,) She Had Some Horses (1985, Avalon Books.) Her literary awards

include the Arrell Gibson Lifetime Achievement Award, The American Indian Festival of Words Author Award from the Tulsa City County Library: Western Literature Association Distinguished Achievement Award (2000), Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Award (1998), a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Native Writers Circle of the Americas and the William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America.



Shop Amoeba Merch Paypal Free Shipping On We Buy Large Collections


New customers, create your account here. Its quick and easy!


Don't want to register? Feel free to make a purchase as a guest!

Checkout as Guest

Currently, we do not allow digital purchases without registration



Become a member of It's easy and quick!

All fields required.

An error has occured - see below:

Minimum: 8 characters, 1 uppercase, 1 special character

Already have an account? Log in.


Forgot Password

To reset your password, enter your registration e-mail address.


Forgot Username

Enter your registration e-mail address and we'll send you your username.


Amoeba Newsletter Sign Up