So many people were in attendance at a speaking event featuring internationally known poet, writer, performer, and saxophone player Joy Harjo, that additional seating had to be added right before the event started.
Harjo is a member of the Creek nation and is a professor of English and American Indian Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
The night was packed with poems and songs that touched on what it means to develop as a person, not holding yourself back and how important it is to heed the advice of others.
Harjo stated throughout the night that there is power in movement, but it’s imperative to be cautious with power.
“Going from a girl to a woman is powerful,” said Harjo. “Adolescence is powerful, but it is also a dangerous place. There is incredible power in movement.”
Harjo also talked about what skill she thinks people must have to find success—the skill of listening.
“We have teachers in our lives that get us to where we are today,” said Harjo. “I have had several great teachers in my lifetime. They mentored me, they didn’t have an attitude where they thought they were better than anyone. The big thing I learned from them was the power of listening. If you want to be successful at anything, whether you want to be a musician, poet, mechanic, or a cook, the skill of listening will get you there.”
Harjo also touched on not holding yourself back in life, to just be yourself.
“There was a lot that I held back when I was younger,” Harjo said. “I didn’t trust myself. I didn’t know myself. When you start to really know who you are and you stop judging others, it’s a great feeling.”
One of the more interesting parts of the night was when Harjo talked about the diminishing number of Native Americans being represented in society.
“Of course you don’t see us in the Oscars,” said Harjo. “If you think about it, can you imagine Africa without any African people? In the United States, the indigenous population is one-half of one percent.”
Freshman Micayla Varieur left the presentation impressed.
“I thought it was very interesting,” said Varieur. “I was amazed with how talented she was when it came to her singing ability and saxophone playing. She’s definitely been through a lot so it was cool to hear her stories in so many different an interesting ways.”
Harjo has published eight books of poetry including her newest collection, Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings and her memoir Crazy Brave, which were on sale at the event. Harjo stayed well after the event to sign purchased copies of her writings as well.
She is currently working on her next memoir, and she is also writing a play called We Were There When Jazz Was Invented, a musical play that talks about the role of Native Americans in the development of blues and jazz in America.
In addition to being a writer, Harjo is an acclaimed musician, performing with her saxophone nationally and internationally, solo and with her band, The Arrow Dynamics.