Joy Harjo is the Librarian of Congress. On June 19, 2019, Carla Hayden named Joy Harjo as the Library of Congress's 23rd Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry. Harjo was reappointed to a second term that ends on April 30, 2020, and a third term that ends on November 19, 2020. She will serve without compensation but may accept gifts.
Harjo is a Native American poet, performer, and civil rights activist. She is a member of the Delaware Nation and has written about her tribal ties.
In addition to her work with the Library of Congress, Harjo runs the literary press Windham Press and serves as director of the Center for Indigenous Language and Literature at the University of California, Berkeley. She has been honored with many awards, including the National Medal of Arts, the nation's highest honor for an artist. In 2012, President Barack Obama appointed Harjo to be one of the first members of the newly formed Office of Indian Affairs within the Department of the Interior.
Harjo has published nine collections of poetry, including most recently, 1991 (2019). She has also written two books of essays, three novels, and a book of short stories. Her poems have been translated into several languages and are included in more than 20 anthologies.
Harjo has been praised for her contributions to American poetry and poetics from both within and outside the United States.
With Presidents' Day approaching in the United States, we're thinking a lot about the Poets Laureate, the nation's official poets. The Librarian of Congress appoints the Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress for a one-year term that runs from October to May. The president can serve no more than two consecutive terms.
The first Poet Laureate was Robert Hayden, appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson on February 19, 1968. He was selected from among the winners of the Library of Congress National Book Award for Poetry. Mr. Hayden died in August of that year at the age of 46.
The most recent appointment was made in 2009 when Barack Obama named Dr. Michael Dyson (pronounced /diz-uhn/), an acclaimed African American poet and professor, to the post. He will serve a three-year term that begins on October 9, 2009.
Dr. Dyson is the ninth person to hold the title of Poet Laureate. Here are the other eight:
Robert Hayden - 1968-69
Dylan Thomas - 1969-72
Richard Allen - 1973-76
Carl Sandburg - 1977-80
Robert Lowell - 1981-82
From 1937 through 1986, the post was known as "Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress," and from 1986 to the present, it was known as "Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry." On December 20, 1985, Congress passed Public Law 99-194, changing the name, which took effect on January 3, 1986. The bill was introduced in the Senate by Edward M. Kennedy and in the House by William H. Jeffress Jr.
The purpose of the appointment is to provide leadership for the development of the art of poetry in America. The position was created by an act of Congress in 1937 (50 Stat. 350) and has been renewed each year since then. The current term will end on December 31, 2019.
The Librarian of Congress selects a poet for the position of Poet Laureate, certifies that the poet is willing and competent to serve, and then appoints the poet to the office. The selection process includes a national search for the person who will become the nation's foremost interpreter of poetry.
The Library of Congress has the power to select the poet laureat. However, since its creation in 1771, only five people have been selected as poet laureate: William Collins, James Madison, Robert Hayden, Derek Walcott, and Elizabeth Bishop. Each poet was selected for their contributions to American culture through their work. Although not required by law, every poet laureat has served as ambassador for poetry throughout their country or world community.
In addition to selecting a poet laureate, some countries that have a royal family also make an effort to choose a poet laureate. For example, Canada selects a poet laureate just like it selects a foreign minister. Japan chooses a poet laureate similar to how it picks a cultural ambassador. In both cases, the decision is made by government officials who understand that literature is important for international relations.
Winning the position of poet laureate can be very difficult. To begin with, there is no requirement that you must be a professional writer to be selected for this position.
How is the poet laureate chosen? The Librarian of Congress appoints the poet laureate on a yearly basis. In making the appointment, the librarian talks with the current laureate, previous appointees, notable poetry critics, and personnel from the library's Poetry and Literature Center. The position has an annual salary of $100,000.
Why was Walt Whitman selected to be the first poet laureate of the United States? William Carlos Williams had earlier been appointed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Whitman was selected because he was considered to be one of the leading poets of the time. His work challenged traditional ideas about what constituted poetry at the time. For example, his poems include many different styles and forms. This made him suitable for representing all of American literature in contrast to the traditionalists who thought that poetry should have a clear form that could be understood immediately.
What other national poets laureates have there been since Whitman? Since his death in 1892, no other US poet has been appointed poet laureate. However, several states have their own poet laureates who are selected in the same way as their federal counterpart. These individuals are given a state pension and the privilege of displaying their portrait on a U.S. postage stamp.
Who has been the most recent poet laureate? Robert Pinsky was appointed in 1998 and died in 2012.