Skip to content ↓

Poet and saxophonist Joy Harjo to visit April 14

Joy Harjo performs with her band. She will read from her recent book "How We Became Human" on April 14.
Joy Harjo performs with her band. She will read from her recent book "How We Became Human" on April 14.

Poet, composer and singer Joy Harjo will present a performance and reading titled "How We Became Human" on Wednesday, April 14 at 5 p.m. in Room 56-154.

As a member of the Muskogee tribe, Harjo attended the Institute of American Indian Arts in New Mexico, where she studied painting and theater. She began writing poetry in 1973, the same year the federal government took over the village of Wounded Knee in South Dakota's Pine Ridge Sioux Reservation. Harjo felt the national Indian political climate demanded singers and speakers, so she took up the saxophone to reflect Native American political issues with a sound involving elements of tribal musics, jazz and rock.

Harjo, one of America's foremost poets, blends storytelling, prayer and song in work drawn from Native American tradition of praising the land and the spirit. She performs her poetry and plays saxophone with her band Poetic Justice.

"It doesn't make sense for a poet/singer to play saxophone," she said to the Boston Herald in April 2003. "But I love the sound of the saxophone. To me it sounds like the human voice. I liked the places where a saxophone could go--places where words can't."

Harjo's most recent book is "How We Became Human: New and Selected Poems," with poems written between 1975 and 2001.

"In Harjo's work, we always feel connected to the Earth and the sky at the same time, and never far away is the outrage felt by a people whose lands were brutally taken from them," wrote Peter Thorpe for the Rocky Mountain News (Denver).

Harjo will be a visiting artist at MIT from April 13-15. Her visit is co-sponsored by the Office of the Arts, the Program in Women's Studies, the Campus Committee on Race Relations, Counseling and Support Services, the Office of Minority Education, the music and theater arts section, the literature section and the Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies. For more information, call 253-8844 or e-mail

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on April 7, 2004.

Related Topics

More MIT News