The Fort Lewis College Common Reading Experience has selected its first Native American author since the program started in 2006.
Joy Harjo’s memoir Crazy Brave is being read by the college’s freshmen. Harjo, a writer, poet, musician and professor, is a member of the Mvskoke Nation.
“We all felt that this was extremely remiss of the school not to have had a Native American writer as the author ...,” said Ana Hale, senior lecturer of writing at FLC and Common Reading Experience board member.
About 33 percent of FLC’s student body is Native American.
FLC faculty, staff and members of the public make up the board, which selects the books each year. Books are read and discussed, and the program culminates with the author visiting campus. Previous selections have included Apocalyptic Planet by Craig Childs and Dead Man Walking: The Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty that Sparked a National Debate by Sister Helen Prejean.
Harjo grew up in Okalhoma but lives in Knoxville, Tennessee, where she serves as the chair of excellence in creative writing at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Crazy Brave is a memoir, she said, but everyone can relate to its theme.
“I think any story can be very particularly cultural, but human beings, too, are human beings,” she said. “It helps them out; it helps them remember to listen; it helps them realize that they’re not the only one. It seems to give them – and it inspires them – to move through difficulties, challenges.”
Hale said students have connected with Crazy Brave because “it’s a very personal book.”
“A lot of what she talks about is pretty difficult – the things that she experienced in her family living through some choices she made as a young woman, I think are reflective of things that are very universally human,” Hale said. “The things that she experienced in her family as a child ... I think more and more, people are growing up in very complicated family circumstances, maybe if not more, then at least it’s more openly discussed. So, I think pretty much everyone can find something in this memoir with which they resonate personally.”
Writing Crazy Brave was difficult, Harjo said. She wrote several versions.
“The first title I had was called A Love Supreme, and my notion was to – you know how a song can evoke memories? So I was going to make it a book of memories of songs and how my life moved according to a sort of song line, but that’s not what happened,” she said.
After several attempts – and a looming deadline – “I knew it wasn’t the book yet, and I finally sat down and said, ‘OK, I give up. I’m going to write the book that wants to be written.’ And that’s how it came about.”
Harjo said when she speaks to the public Monday, she wants audience members to learn that Crazy Brave is bigger than one woman’s story.
“I want them to take away that everyone has gifts,” Harjo said. “We all have our own path, and nobody’s path is the same; you never know anyone’s story.”