Reading Women Discuss Indigenous Women Writers from Around the World
Kendra Winchester and Jaclyn Masters on Joy Harjo, Louise Erdrich, and More
To introduce Reading Women‘s theme this month, Kendra Winchester and Jaclyn Masters discuss books by and/or about Indigenous women, including Joy Harjo’s An American Sunrise, the anthology Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia, edited by Dr. Anita Heiss, Rebecca Roanhorse’s Trail of Lightning, and Black Marks on the White Page, edited by Witi Ihimaera and Tina Makereti.
From the episode:
Kendra Winchester: We talked about how Joy Harjo is now our new Poet Laureate of the United States. Her new poetry collection, which came out in August, is An American Sunrise, and it’s a gorgeous collection of poems out from W.W. Norton. Joy Harjo is a member of the Muscogee Creek Nation. She writes just some of the most beautiful poetry I have ever read. She writes a lot about history in this collection and it reminds me of Pachinko, which in the first line says, “History has failed us. But no matter.” It’s a lot of themes about history in this collection. You know when I finished it I was speechless, and Jaclyn, I feel you had a similar experience.
Jaclyn Masters: Absolutely. That was a very moving collection. I feel like I learned a lot through it as well because obviously I’m not American. I haven’t studied American history living here. So I feel like I definitely learned a lot from what she shared in the collection.
Kendra: Yes, and there is this one poem where Harjo is talking about washing the body of her mother. She ties in obviously this grief that she has but also how Native peoples were not allowed to practice their own spiritual and cultural traditions. Basically, it was illegal to be Native American in the cultural sense and to be able to honor your elders in that way. She ties all of these ideas in beautifully in this single poem, and it is incredible. As far as reading poetry, I feel like I’m fairly new. I’ve only been really looking at this in the last several years, but reading her poetry she did so much in such a limited amount of space and she brings in all of these ideas and meaning into it. It is incredible, and it’s obvious why she is now our Poet Laureate because she does amazing work.
Jaclyn: I think one of the things that I found really interesting was how she made or how she depicted history but gave it a really personal perspective to her own personal family experience. I found that really effective and interesting to read.
Kendra: Making history real can sometimes be a challenge when you’re in the classroom, but the way that she does it is, she gives you her personal experience of these things so you have a real person experiencing these very real things that happened in history. This would be a great collection for students because it focuses on history. It would be great collection for high schoolers to read when they’re studying this time period of some of the laws that she talks about in the poetry collection because there are these little paragraphs she’ll have before or after poems that talk about the concept that she’s talking about. She says this thing happened in history, and then she’ll have a poem about it or she’ll have a poem and then she’ll have the paragraph explaining what she’s writing about after. I feel like the way she contextualize the poems really does make history alive in that sense.