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Joy Harjo, an internationally recognized poet, musician, author, and playwright who serves on UT’s English faculty, has won one of the nation’s largest literary prizes in poetry.

The Poetry Foundation this week awarded Harjo the prestigious Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize. The honor, which comes with $100,000, is bestowed on a living American poet for outstanding lifetime accomplishments.

“I am deeply honored to be the recipient of such a recognition,” Harjo said. “There are so many who are a part of me making it to where I am on this poetry road. I’ve had so many teachers. Some were formal educators, others artists, family members, elements, animals, plants, and others. The process of becoming never ends. Thank you. Or as we say in the original languages of these lands here, Mvto.”

The Poetry Foundation will present the award to Harjo during a June 12 ceremony. The foundation, which publishes Poetry magazine, established the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize in 1986.

Related: Hear Harjo Read Her Poem “Remember”

Harjo holds the Chair of Excellence in the Department of English, a title reserved for scholars and writers of the highest distinction.

Allen Dunn, head of the department, noted that the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize is Harjo’s second major poetry prize in as many years.

“She is now recognized as one of the leading voices in American poetry,” he said. “We are very fortunate to have her as a member of our department. The fact that her work is so widely acclaimed makes her an effective ambassador for the University of Tennessee and demonstrates the high caliber of the faculty here. As an outspoken advocate for the rights of women and native peoples, she reminds us of the values that should shape our university community.”

Related: See Harjo’s Reading at the Writers in the Library Series

Born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Harjo began writing poetry when she was a college student in the Southwest in the 1970s to give a voice to the Native American rights movement. Her works reflect her Muscogee Creek tribal heritage.

Harjo plays saxophone with her band, the Arrow Dynamics, performs one-woman shows, edits literary journals, and writes screenplays. She is the author of eight books of poetry, a memoir, two children’s books, a collaboration with photographer and astronomer Stephen Strom, and an anthology of North American Native women’s writing.


Lola Alapo (865-974-3993,