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Memoir by Native author chosen for this year's One Book, One Community program events

Joy Harjo is first Native author ever chosen for project

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
"Crazy Brave: A Memoir" by U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo is the One Book, One Community selection this year at San Juan College.
  • "Crazy Brave: A Memoir: chronicles Joy Harjo's journey to becoming a poet.
  • Harjo is a Muscogee (Creek) writer and performer from Oklahoma.
  • She will make a pair of virtual appearances at San Juan College on Sept. 30.

FARMINGTON — Given her role as an anthropology professor at San Juan College, and not a member of the English department, Dr. Andrea Cooper may not at first blush appear to be the most natural fit to lead the school's One Book, One Community Committee.

The group selects a new book every year that students and local residents are encouraged to read and discuss through a series of public events.

But Cooper has been an active member of the committee for several years, and she said she has enjoyed her experience in the program because it has exposed her to material outside her own field.

"(The) One Book (program) is one way for me to keep up with books I wouldn't normally have read," she said.

Cooper said the program appeals to her not just for its subject matter, but for the way it is designed to engage the entire community.

"I think I've gone to every event since we started," she said. "So the chance to lead the team is really exciting."

When the committee chooses a book each year, it makes a point of selecting one that can be enjoyed by a wide group of people, not just a select audience. Cooper said this year's selection — "Crazy Brave: A Memoir" by U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo — fits that description well.

Andrea Cooper

"I really, really enjoyed the book," Cooper said. "I think it's beautifully written. It's written in a poetic way. It's just really enjoyable to read. But there are some difficult parts in the book."

This is only the second time in the long history of the program that the work of a Native author has been chosen. Cooper said she thought that was an important element, given the high enrollment of Native students at the college.

But an equally important factor is the willingness of the author to visit the college for a personal appearance — something Harjo apparently was eager to do until the COVID-19 pandemic derailed those plans. Cooper said Harjo now will make a pair of virtual appearances on Wednesday, Sept. 30.

Harjo, an Oklahoma native, is a Muscogee (Creek) writer and performer who lives in Tulsa. She will conduct a meet-and-greet Zoom session that is largely limited to San Juan College students at 3 p.m. Sept. 30, then return at 6 p.m. that day for a Zoom presentation for anyone who cares to take part. The meeting can be accessed at https://zoom.us/j/91653741883.

Cooper said Harjo seemed to be excited about having her book selected for the program, as she is familiar with the Four Corners area and looks forward to having the chance to open a dialog with so many Native students.

"Crazy Brave" chronicles Harjo's journey to becoming a poet and deals with various issues in her life, including grief and domestic violence. Cooper said the former element should be especially relevant to local readers, given how many of them have lost family members to the pandemic.

"We didn't foresee that (when the book was chosen), but I'm really excited about that," Cooper said. "I think it could be really comforting to other people reading about her experiences."

Joy Harjo

Several events are planned throughout the year to address the themes covered in the book. Each of those events this year will take place in a virtual setting because of the pandemic, but Cooper said she thinks the program is well suited for that kind of approach.

"We thought we could adapt it, and the committee had wanted to do more online events," she said. "That had been a goal of the committee. So we've been able to pull that off pretty well."

Cooper said the virtual series of events may prove to be more popular than in-person events. The kickoff event for the series, a Sept. 8 Zoom presentation by Darrah Blackwater titled "Advocacy for Connectivity and Spectrum Rights," drew 84 people, she noted — a very healthy turnout.

The second event in the series takes place at 4 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 17. San Juan College English professor Danielle Sullivan will lead a presentation called "Grief and the Therapy of Creative Writing."

Other events are scheduled throughout October and November, including a children's event, a poetry reading and a domestic violence awareness panel. A highlight of the series will be a 2:30 p.m. Nov. 17 event led by Dr. Kelly Robison that covers "Native American History and Geography 101."

More events will be scheduled for the spring. To find a link to the Zoom meeting for the events, visit the San Juan College community events calendar at sanjuancollege.edu/news-and-events/events-calendar/.

A book signing traditionally follows the author's appearance on campus, but that won't be possible this year because of the pandemic. Cooper said One Book, One Community organizers have settled on a creative alternative to that by having stickers bearing the project logo printed by the maker space at the college's Enterprise Center.

Those stickers will be sent to Harjo in Tulsa, and she will return them to the college so they can be distributed to students at San Juan College and other community members who read the book and take part in the program.

For more information about One Book, One Community, visit sanjuancollege.edu/community/departments/one-book-one-community/.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or measterling@daily-times.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription.