It took Joy Harjo fourteen years to write her memoir Crazy Brave. In it she tells of her parents' tumultuous marriage. Harjo's beautiful mother opposes her own father, traveling to Tulsa, Oklahoma in search of a mate. When young, Harjo's father had been sent to a military academy where he “learned anger as a method to control sensitivity.” When the violent marriage ends, an abusive stepfather steps in to consume the family. At sixteen, when her stepfather tries to send her to a Christian boarding school, Joy pleads with her mother to send her, instead, to The Institute of American Indian Arts.
There, Harjo and her fellow classmates temporarily escape “the troubled families and the history [they] could never leave behind.” Although they continue to struggle, in a 2012 interview Harjo says “creativity is the opposite of destruction. And it really moved us towards rethinking our peoples.”
Her family legacy plays out well into her college years, until poetry offers refuge, teaching her how to listen, speak, and sing.
Harjo’s memoir is short, at 164 pages. Don’t be fooled. As a poet, she writes eloquently about difficult times, honoring those parts of her story.