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NEA Big Read: A Conversation with Joy Harjo

Posted on November 11th, 2020

Joy Harjo

The U.S. Poet Laureate will read from her book, “An American Sunrise,” during a special virtual event on Jan. 30. The program is part of EIU Booth Library’s Big Read program.

Joy Harjo will present the program at 1 p.m. via Microsoft Teams. The program is free and open to the public (all that is needed to participate is access to a web browser; no special software is required). Harjo, a member of the Mvskoke/Creek, will read from “An American Sunrise” and participate in a moderated Q+A discussion. More information and a link to participate is available at

Harjo’s program is sponsored by Booth Library, the Broward County Library (Florida), Broward Public Library Foundation Inc., and Florida Center for the Book. The event is part of the annual Lions in Winter festival sponsored by the EIU Department of English.

“There are few literary voices in America today that are more important than Joy Harjo,” said Zach Newell, dean of Library Services at EIU. “We are incredibly fortunate to be able to introduce our patrons to such a powerful and personal work of literature at a time of continued civic unrest in our country. We should all take Harjo’s message to heart.”

In 2019, Harjo was appointed the 23rd United States Poet Laureate, the first Native American to hold the position. She has since been reappointed to the position twice, with her third term scheduled to begin in September 2021. Born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Harjo is an internationally known award-winning poet, writer, performer, and saxophone player of the Mvskoke/Creek Nation.

In “American Sunrise,” Harjo’s eighth collection of poems, she revisits the homeland from which her ancestors were uprooted in 1830 as a result of the Indian Removal Act. The book explores the power of nature, spirituality, memory, violence, and the splintered history of America’s indigenous peoples.

The Big Read is an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts that is designed to broaden our understanding of our world, our communities, and ourselves through the joy of sharing a good book. Booth Library at Eastern Illinois University received a $14,000 Big Read grant to support a community reading program during the 2020-2021 academic year. The local NEA Big Read program is focused on “An American Sunrise.”

Local Big Read programs sponsored by many community organizations will take place through April 2021. Additional programs will be added to the schedule and will be updated on The Big Read website at

Anyone who would like a free paperback copy of “An American Sunrise” may contact Booth Library. For more information, contact Janice Derr, Big Read project director at Booth Library, at or 217-581-7555.

NEA Big Read is a program of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest.

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