I listened this memoir by a Native American poet in December because it was mentioned by Laura. I am currently listening again to bring Joy Harjo’s voice back into my head. The first chapter or two is poetic, including part that she sang.
She moves into a more conventional story-telling mode and we learn that she was born in Tulsa, her father was Muscogee Creek, and her mother was part Cherokee. When their marriage ended, her mother married a white man who was abusive and threatened her in many ways. She learned about the Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding school, the Institute of American Indian Arts, and found the BIA helpful in making that happen.
She recounted her time there and told great tales (mostly true, she said) of students and their dramas. She spoke highly of the teachers and of her experiences. She left after becoming pregnant and had some tough years with her son and husband who was talented but struggled to make money. She eventually made her way back into the world that valued her, but hard times continued. She remarried. Though dreams and “the knowing” warned her, she made some bad choices. She says,
I recalled the dream I’d had of the daughter who wanted to be born. I’d been painting all night when she appeared to me. She was a baby with fat cheeks and then she was a grown woman. She asked me to give birth to her. “This isn’t a good time,” I told her. I was in the middle of finals and assisting in planning a protest for the killing of Navajo street drunks for fun by some white high school students. They had just been questioned and set free with no punishment. “Why come to this kind of world,” I asked her. Her intent made a fine and wavering line that connected my heart to hers.
Shortly after this she describes finding her drunk naked husband who had gone for a swim in a neighboring motel pool. When she considered leaving him, she says, “It was then that I first felt our daughter moving within me. She awakened me with a flutter, a kick. As I walked to the pool, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.”
I will end by recounting some of her accomplishments listed on her Wikipedia page. She received a degree from the University of New Mexico in 1976 and a masters in creative writing from the University of Iowa in 1978. She has taught at the Institute of American Indian Arts, Arizona State University, the University of Colorado, and other universities. She has five albums of solo alto saxophone, she has written poetry, two children books, and is the United States Poet Laureate.
Joy Harjo, Crazy Brave, W.W. Norton, 2012, 169 pages (I listened to the audiobook). Available at the public library.