U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo to Kick Off MFA’s First Residency

Harjo to give public reading at Alma College on June 18

ALMA — Alma College’s new Master of Fine Arts in creative writing will convene its first 10-day residency in June 2021 led by the words and wisdom of Joy Harjo, the 23rd United States Poet Laureate.

Harjo is an award-winning poet, writer, performer, and saxophone player of the Mvskoke/Creek Nation. She’s authored nine books of poetry and a memoir and is the first Native American to hold the position of U.S. Poet Laureate.

Harjo will attend the start of the MFA residency on June 18. She will present a “craft talk” for students in the afternoon, and in the evening will give a reading that will be free and open to the public. Both events will take place at the Wright Leppien Opera House.

Alma College President Jeff Abernathy said it is a great opportunity to host the celebrated poet.

“We are honored to have Joy Harjo join us at Alma College,” Abernathy said. “Harjo has been a powerful voice for the dispossessed for decades, speaking for those whose own voices we have too often failed to hear. We look forward to welcoming her as our first students join us in Alma’s new MFA program.”

Sophfronia Scott, director of the MFA program, agreed.

“I’m so thrilled she will be with us. Joy Harjo is a poet steeped in spirit and she works from a bold, artistic vision. I know she will set the tone for our residency and inspire everyone,” Scott said.

Harjo’s many writing awards include the 2019 Jackson Prize from the Poetry Society of America, the Ruth Lilly Prize from the Poetry Foundation, the 2015 Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American Poets, and the William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America.

The Judges Citation of the Jackson Prize stated, “Harjo’s work speaks not only to the world we live in, but to the unseen world that moves through us, the thread that has connected us all from the start…. Harjo’s poems embody a rich physicality and movement; they begin in the ear and the eye, they go on to live and hum inside the body…. Throughout her luminous and substantial body of work, there is a sense of timelessness, of ongoingness, of history repeating; these are poems that hold us up to the truth and insist we pay attention.”

The new MFA program is the first graduate degree Alma College has offered in its 134-year history. Its low-residency format is designed for students who want to continue working while earning a degree.

Participants will come together four times over the two-year curriculum to take part in 10 days of intensive lectures, workshops, readings and 1-on-1 time with a world-class team of faculty mentors.

The summer residencies will be based at the Opera House, while the winter residencies will take place at the Ralph A. MacMullan Conference Center, located on the shore of Higgins Lake in Roscommon. After each residency, writers will return home to continue their studies one-on-one with a faculty mentor, creating and submitting packets of creative and critical work on a monthly basis. The end goal is the development of a graduate lecture and a creative thesis, leading to a substantial manuscript in poetry, fiction, or creative nonfiction.

If you are interested in learning more about the MFA program, visit You can also email Scott at or call (989) 463-7394.

Story published on November 02, 2020