Smith College lands poet laureate Joy Harjo as commencement speaker


  • FILE - U.S. poet laureate Joy Harjo speaks at the Governors Awards on Oct. 27, 2019, in Los Angeles. Harjo will serve a third 1-year term and has launched an online project that celebrates Native American poets around the country. Her re-appointment was announced Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020, by the Library of Congress, and her new term begins in September. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP, File) AP PHOTO—Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

Staff Writer
Published: 2/19/2021 5:28:51 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Joy Harjo, the U.S. poet laureate, will address graduates at Smith College’s commencement ceremony this spring, the college announced Friday.

Harjo, a renowned poet, writer, performer and saxophonist, was named poet laureate in 2019. A member of the Muscogee/Creek Nation, she is the first Native American to hold the post.

Harjo has published nine poetry books, including “An American Sunrise,” in addition to plays and children’s books, and a memoir, “Crazy Brave,” which won the American Book Award and PEN USA Literary Award for Creative Non-Fiction in 2013.

Harjo has been awarded numerous other poetry awards, is a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and chairs the board of Native Arts and Cultures Foundation.

She is also the creator of “Living Nations, Living Words,” a website introducing readers to Native poets.

The college will present Harjo with an honorary degree at the ceremony.

This year’s honorary degree recipients from the college also include Joanne Campbell, the former longtime executive director of Valley Community Development, who will be recognized as a “local hero”; Deborah Bial, president and founder of The Posse Foundation, an organization that works to send students from diverse backgrounds to selective colleges and universities; and actress and singer Audra McDonald, who has won six Tony Awards, two Grammys an Emmy and received a National Medal of Arts in 2015.

The college will also award honorary degrees to those who were selected for the recognition in 2020. These degrees will go to Northampton educator Gwen Agna; climate change activist and diplomat Christiana Figueres; advocate for immigrants Cristina Jiménez; educator and pastor the Rev. Gloria Elaine White-Hammond; and author Hanya Yanagihara, class of ’95.

After hosting an all-virtual ceremony last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the college hopes to host an in-person ceremony for students only, if state guidelines permit the gathering. Attendees and students who cannot be on campus will be able to watch the ceremony virtually.

The ceremony will take place at 10 a.m. on Sunday, May 30.

Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at

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