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We are in a time of great distress, U.S. Poet Laureate and Crazy Brave author Joy Harjo told hundreds of members of the Connecticut College and eastern Connecticut communities during the virtual One Book One Region event Sept. 14.
“The Earth is in distress, the governance of this country is in distress, there is distress between people. … Everything has changed. How will we get through this?” Harjo asked.
Each person has been given a light, and light is meant to be shared, she said. One way to share this light is through art.
“Art meets the spirit, art holds the intangible. It expresses what we can’t express with words. It goes beyond. Art challenges us and takes us forward. We need it,” she said.
“So, when we come to these times, where there is a yearning and an absolute need to speak what has not been spoken … art has the ability to hold and transform. That which can be very difficult to transform as a human being struggling alone, art can access.”
Crazy Brave is a transcendent memoir by Harjo, the first Native American to be named U.S. Poet Laureate. She was appointed the 23rd United States Poet Laureate in 2019. She is also the winner of the PEN USA Literary Award in Creative Nonfiction and the American Book Award. In addition to Crazy Brave, she is the author of nine books of poetry, as well as several plays and children’s books, and has recorded several albums.
Crazy Brave evokes the terrain and texture of Harjo’s birthplace in the Muscogee Creek Nation, as well as the mythology of her ancestors, tracing her story from childhood in an Oklahoma town to the discovery of her poetic voice as a young adult. Suffering the multiple indignities of racism, poverty and abuse, Harjo circumvented despair by embracing art, music and activism. Crazy Brave confronts the long American history of injustice against indigenous peoples, while affirming the power of art to liberate and heal.
In her remarks during the live virtual event, Connecticut College President Katherine Bergeron said Crazy Brave “evokes the idea of a life in the most beautiful way, by insisting on the deep connections among lived experience, ancestral history, poetry, art and song.”
She added, “Joy Harjo is a prolific artist of many media, an inspired performer and a unique voice in American poetry whose award-winning work over four decades has explored the meaning of truth and beauty and justice by singing the story of her people.”
Thousands of people in the greater New London region read Crazy Brave as part of the One Book One Region of Eastern Connecticut initiative, including all Connecticut College first-year students. Harjo’s talk was the culminating event for the program, which included multiple book discussions and poetry walks.
“In these unprecedented times, One Book One Region continues to connect our community to ensure that we engage with one another,” Dean of the College Jefferson Singer said of the event, which he called, “an inspirational and thought-provoking evening.”
Prior to Harjo’s talk, Dean of Institutional Equity and Inclusion John McKnight acknowledged and honored the Mashantucket Pequots, Eastern Pequots, Mohegans and other tribal nations who are indigenous to Nameaug, now called New London, and the land surrounding Coastal Algonquin, also known as the Long Island Sound region.
“We appreciate your careful stewardship of the land over many generations and acknowledge the suffering endured by your ancestors through the historical period of settler colonialism,” he said. “Finally, we express gratitude that your tribal nations remain as neighbors in the region and that we continue developing opportunities for greater connection and partnership.”
This is the fifth year the College has partnered with One Book One Region to bring community members and the College community together to discuss ideas, broaden appreciation of reading and break down barriers among people. Previously, the College hosted Hey, Kiddo author Jarrett Krosoczka, Exit West author Mohsin Hamid, Homegoing author Yaa Gyasi, and Just Mercy author Bryan Stevenson.
One Book One Region is made possible through the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut; Libraries of Eastern CT; the Frank Loomis Palmer Fund, Bank of America, N.A., Trustee; and Connecticut College’s Office of the President. Bank Square Books arranged for the purchase of Crazy Brave for the Class of 2024 and their advisers.