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In celebrating its 40th year, the Ucross Foundation is welcoming a former U.S. Poet Laureate

Joy Harjo Larry Mitchell Photo by Karen Kuehn.jpg
Karen Kuehn
Ucross Foundation
Joy Harjo (left), a former U.S. Poet Laureate and Larry Mitchell (right), a Grammy Award-winning musician, will perform at the WYO Theater in Sheridan on Saturday, Feb. 25. The performance is one of a series of events in 2023 celebrating Ucross's 40th anniversary.

The Ucross Foundation is welcoming a former three-term U.S. Poet Laureate to the WYO Theater in Sheridan this weekend. Joy Harjo, a Ucross alumna and her longtime musical collaborator, Grammy Award-winner Larry Mitchell, will perform an evening of music and poetry on Saturday, Feb. 25.

Harjo will receive the Ucross Award for Distinguished Achievement in the Arts. It’s only been awarded once before, to Annie Proulx in 2018. There were plans to award Harjo the award in 2021 but the pandemic prevented them from doing so. The 40th anniversary of Ucross this year, however, presented an opportunity to bring Harjo back to Sheridan County again.

Harjo is a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and was the first Native American to be named the 23rd U.S. Poet Laureate and only the second to be appointed to a third term in the position’s history, serving from 2019-2022. She’s the author of nine poetry books and has produced seven award-winning music albums and resides full-time in Tulsa, Okla.

She first visited Ucross a decade ago for the Sundance Institute Playwrights and Composer’s Retreat at Ucross where she stayed for a three-week residency.

“She has such an interesting career that involves music and performance, as well as playwriting and poetry and, [a] memoir,” said William Belcher, Ucross Foundation president. “It's been 10 years since she's been here but I know she's looking forward to coming back.”

This is also the first time Ucross has hosted a U.S. Poet Laureate after hosting several Pulitzer Prize and Grammy Award winners, among others over the years. Harjo’s visit was initially only slated to be herself performing for an audience but discussions with her expanded the event.

“She combines this music and performance or music and poetry, and so we crafted this evening of music, an evening of music and poetry with Joy Harjo. As schedules firmed up [in recent] weeks, Joy floated this idea of bringing her longtime accompanist who is a Grammy Award-winning musician and producer to perform with her,” Belcher said.

In addition to performing at the WYO Theater, Harjo will host a discussion at Sheridan College on Feb. 24 at noon focusing on her creative process of writing, composing, and performing. This event is free and open to the public.

Harjo will receive the award during the performance. Tickets for it are available, which begins with a reception and meet-and-greet at 6 p.m. followed by the performance at 7:30 p.m. at the WYO Theater.

Hugh Cook is Wyoming Public Radio's Northeast Reporter, based in Gillette. A fourth-generation Northeast Wyoming native, Hugh joined Wyoming Public Media in October 2021 after studying and working abroad and in Washington, D.C. for the late Senator Mike Enzi.
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