Crazy Brave

Crazy Brave coverCrazy Brave: A Memoir
Joy Harjo
‎W. W. Norton & Company (July 9, 2012), 173 pages
Kindle edition $8.52, Amazon hardcover $13.99

Joy Harjo is the first Native American to serve as Poet Laureate of the United States, and the Librarian of Congress appointed her to a third term in November 2020. Her latest book, Poet Warrior, has just been published. The current volume, published in 2012, only covers her early years. Although she received an MFA from the renowned Iowa Writers’ Workshop, she does not write about that experience in Crazy Brave. This memoir ends with her undergraduate days in New Mexico. You can read about her Iowa experience in We Wanted to Be Writers, a book of interviews with participants in the program.

Harjo did not have it easy as a child or young adult. She grew up in Oklahoma. Her mother divorced her father (both Native Americans) for his wayward activities and married a white man who was cruel and controlling. The author was fortunate to be able to get away to a school of the arts for Native Americans in New Mexico. However, she found herself pregnant by her boyfriend at the school. He was a poor father and like Harjo’s father a philanderer as well. She later became involved with a poet with whom she had a daughter. He was an alcoholic and abusive. She finally got the nerve to leave him.

If all this sounds rather depressing, it is. At the same time Harjo writes about her mother’s love, her creative work at the school for the arts, the support of her teachers, and the friendships she developed in tough times.

Harjo’s writing alone makes this book worth reading. Harjo tells of being tested for polio as a child. She says that the doctors eventually concluded that she didn’t have polio. The author goes on to write about dreams involving alligators. Then Harjo says:

quoteI believe now that I had the beginnings of polio. The alligators took it away. It is possible. This world is mysterious.

Similarly, writing about the father of her son she tells us, “His father had abandoned the family and he had no father-map.”

The book concludes with her discovery of her ability to write poetry. It is an ending filled with hope, and we know about her successful career since then.

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