52nd Annual UND Writers Conference
Authors and Artists
In 2019, Joy Harjo was appointed the 23rd United States Poet Laureate, the first Native American to hold the position. Born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Harjo is an internationally known award-winning poet, writer, performer, and saxophone player of the Mvskoke/Creek Nation. Grammy award winning saxophonist Paul Winter says, “Joy Harjo is a poet of music just as she is a poet of words.” She is the author of nine books of poetry and a memoir.
Her 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 declares, “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.”
And on behalf of the judges of the Wallace Stevens Award, Alicia Ostriker said: “Throughout her extraordinary career as poet, storyteller, musician, memoirist, playwright and activist, Joy Harjo has worked to expand our American language, culture, and soul.”
Harjo’s poetry collections include An American Sunrise (W.W. Norton, 2019); Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings (2015)—shortlisted for the 2016 Griffin Poetry Prize and added to ALA’s 2016 Notable Books List, this book is hailed by Yusef Komunyakaa as “a marvelous instrument that veins through a dark lode of American history.”; How We Became Human: New and Selected Poems; and She Had Some Horses.
Her memoir Crazy Brave (W.W. Norton, 2012) won several awards including the PEN USA Literary Award for Creative Non-Fiction and the American Book Award. It was called “The best kind of memoir, an unself-conscious mix of autobiography, spiritual rumination, cultural evaluation, history and political analysis told in simple but authoritative and deeply poetic prose” by Ms Magazine. Harjo is currently working on her next memoir, and she has a commission from the Public Theater of NY to write We Were There When Jazz Was Invented—a musical play that will restore southeastern natives to the American story of blues and jazz.
Soul Talk, Song Language (2011, Wesleyan) is a collection of Harjo’s essays and interviews. She co-edited three anthologies of contemporary Native women’s writing: Living Nations, Living Words, When the Light of the World was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through and Reinventing the Enemy’s Language: Native Women’s Writing of North America, one of the London Observer’s Best Books of 1997. She wrote the award-winning children’s book The Good Luck Cat (Harcourt), and in 2009 she published a young adult, coming-of-age-book, For A Girl Becoming, which won a Moonbeam Award and a Silver Medal from the Independent Publishers Awards.
A renowned musician, Harjo performs with her saxophone nationally and internationally, solo and with her band, The Arrow Dynamics. She has five CDs of music and poetry including her most recent award-winning album of traditional flute, Red Dreams, A Trail Beyond Tears and Winding Through the Milky Way, which won a Native American Music Award (NAMMY) for Best Female Artist of the Year in 2009. She also performs her one-woman show, “Wings of Night Sky, Wings of Morning Light,” which premiered at the Wells Fargo Theater in Los Angeles in 2009 with other performances at the Public Theater in NYC and LaJolla Playhouse as part of the Native Voices at the Autry.
Harjo is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, the New Mexico Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts, the Rasmuson United States Artist Fellowship. In 2014 she was inducted into the Oklahoma Writers Hall of Fame.
Nnedi Okorafor is a Nigerian-American author of Africanfuturism and Africanjujuism for children and adults. Her works include WHO FEARS DEATH (in development at HBO into a TV series), the BINTI novella trilogy, THE BOOK OF PHOENIX, the AKATA books and LAGOON. She is the winner of Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy, Locus and Lodestar Awards and her debut novel ZAHRAH THE WINDSEEKER won the prestigious Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature. Her next novel, IKENGA, will be in stores August 2020.
Nnedi has also written comics for Marvel, including BLACK PANTHER: LONG LIVE THE KING and WAKANDA FOREVER (featuring the Dora Milaje) and the SHURI series, an Africanfuturist comic series LAGUARDIA (from Dark Horse) and her short memoir BROKEN PLACES AND OUTER SPACES. Nnedi is also cowriter the adaptation of Octavia Butler’s WILD SEED with Viola Davis and Kenyan film director Wanuri Kahiu. Nnedi holds a PhD (literature) and two MAs (journalism and literature). She lives with her daughter Anyaugo and family in Illinois.
About Ross Gay
Ross Gay is the author of four books of poetry: Against Which; Bringing the Shovel Down; Be Holding; and Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, winner of the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award and the 2016 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award. His new poem, Be Holding, will be released from the University of Pittsburgh Press in September of 2020. His collection of essays, The Book of Delights, was released by Algonquin Books in 2019.
Ross is also the co-author, with Aimee Nezhukumatathil, of the chapbook "Lace and Pyrite: Letters from Two Gardens," in addition to being co-author, with Rosechard Wehrenberg, of the chapbook, "River." He is a founding editor, with Karissa Chen and Patrick Rosal, of the online sports magazine Some Call it Ballin', in addition to being an editor with the chapbook presses Q Avenue and Ledge Mule Press. Ross is a founding board member of the Bloomington Community Orchard, a non-profit, free-fruit-for-all food justice and joy project. He also works on The Tenderness Project with Shayla Lawson and Essence London. He has received fellowships from Cave Canem, the Bread Loaf Writer's Conference, and the Guggenheim Foundation. Ross teaches at Indiana University.
Marie was born and raised in California to a Japanese mother and American father, and graduated from Columbia University with a degree in East Asian Languages and Civilizations.
Her memoir, Where the Dead Pause and the Japanese Say Goodbye, explores how the Japanese cope with grief and tragedy and is set against the backdrop of the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster in Tōhoku, Japan and her family’s 350 year old Buddhist temple. The memoir was a New York Times Editors Choice, a Barnes and Noble Discover Pick, an Indie Next Pick, a Finalist for the 2016 Pen Open Book Award, a San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of 2015 and a Finalist for the Indies Choice Best Book for Adult Nonfiction for 2016.
Her first novel, there Picking Bones from Ash, was shortlisted for the Saroyan International Prize for Writing, and a finalist for the Paterson Prize. Her essay, Letter from a Japanese Crematorium, was anthologized in Norton’s Best Creative Nonfiction 3. She has written for The New York Times, Salon, National Geographic, Glamour, and other publications and has been a guest on The World, Talk of the Nation and All Things Considered on NPR. She enjoys speaking to the public about Japan, modern attitudes toward religion and spirituality and seeing through unconscious bias.
In 2013, Marie was awarded a Fellowship by the NEA and Japan US Friendship Commission, which enabled her to live in Japan. While there, she was featured in the NHK (Japanese National Broadcasting) Documentary, Venerating the Departed, which was broadcast internationally several times. Marie has also been award scholarships by the Bread Loaf Writers Conference and been a Fellow at UCross and the Dora Maar House.
Her forthcoming book, “American Harvest,” is set in seven agricultural and heartland states, and will be published by Graywolf Press on April 7, 2020; “American Harvest” was a finalist for the Lukas Prize for Nonfiction. (Formerly titled “A Kernel in God’s Eye.”)
Marie received her MFA from the Bennington Writers Seminars and teaches fiction and nonfiction at the Rainier Writing Workshop, in Tacoma, Washington. For the 2019-2020 academic year, she is a Visiting Writer in the MFA program Saint Mary’s College in Moraga, California and lives in San Francisco.
Sonia Shah is an investigative journalist and author of critically-acclaimed books on science, human rights, and international politics. Her latest book, The Next Great Migration: The Beauty and Terror of Life on the Move has been described as “illuminating” and “masterful.”
Sonia was born in New York City to Indian immigrants. As a child, she frequently traveled between the northeastern United States, where her parents practiced medicine, to Mumbai and Bangalore, India, where her extended-working class family lived. This led her to develop a life-long interest in inequality between and within societies. Her critically-acclaimed book The Fever: How Malaria Has Ruled Humankind for 500,000 Years, which is based on five years of original reportage in Cameroon, Malawi, Panama and elsewhere, was called a “tour-de-force” by the New York Times, and was long-listed for the Royal Society Winton Prize. Bill Gates called it one of his top four “good books on disease.” Sonia’s fourth book, Pandemic: Tracking Contagions from Cholera to Ebola and Beyond was a finalist for the 2017 Los Angeles Times Book Prize, the New York Public Library’s Helen Bernstein Book Award for Excellence in Journalism, and the National Association of Science Writers’ Science in Society Award. Her TED talk, “Three Reasons We Still Haven’t Gotten Rid of Malaria,” has been viewed more than one million people around the world. Sonia holds a BA in journalism, philosophy, and neuroscience. She lives in Baltimore with molecular ecologist, Mark Bulmer, and her two sons.
Aylan Couchie is a Nishnaabekwe interdisciplinary artist and writer hailing from Nipissing First Nation. She is a NSCAD University alumna and received her MFA in Interdisciplinary Art, Media and Design at OCAD University in where she focused her thesis on reconciliation and its relationship to monument and public art. Her written, gallery and public works explore the intersections of colonial/First Nations histories of place, culture and Indigenous erasure as well as issues of (mis)representation and cultural appropriation. She’s been the recipient of several awards including an “Outstanding Student Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture” award through the International Sculpture Centre and a Premier’s Award through Ontario Colleges. She serves as the Chair of Native Women in the Arts and currently lives and works from her home community of Nipissing First Nation in Northern Ontario and is a PhD Candidate in the Cultural Studies program at Queen’s University.
Jessica Fischoff is Editor and Owner of [PANK], Editor and Owner of American Poetry Journal, author the little book of poems, The Desperate Measure of Undoing (Across the Margin, 2019) and Editor of the upcoming Pittsburgh Anthology (Dostoyevsky Wannabe). Her thoughts on editing appear in Best American Poetry and The Kenyon Review. Her writing appears in Esquire, Diode Poetry Journal, The Southampton Review, The Common, Creative Nonfiction, and Adroit Journal.