Jumping Into a Lake: A Student’s Experience with Joy Harjo

Megan Cieri ’13 is a senior creative writing major who took Joy Harjo’s weeklong writing workshop during the 2012 Writers Festival. I sat down with Megan to talk about her experiences with Harjo, Native American poet, writer, and musician. Harjo is the author of the recently-released memoir Crazy Brave, as well as many other collections of poetry, music albums, children’s books, and memoirs.

Paige Sullivan: What piqued your interest in taking the workshop?

Megan Cieri: Well, I had read some of her poetry for Dr. Guthrie’s class—I think it was a class on Native American literature—and I thought, I sort of know her. I might as well try it out.

PS: And you’re a creative writing major, right?

MC:  Yes. I didn’t know her well, but it seemed like a fun thing to do.

PS: Tell me what the workshop was like.

MC: It was…very free-form, because she’s very relaxed, very open, and spiritual, I think. It was like a spiritual experience for me. There wasn’t too much I learned about writing, but I learned so much about myself and nature. She talked about how she says hi to trees and flowers, and now I do that too.

PS: So, about how long was the workshop?

MC: It was a week long, and we met every night. That was kind of difficult with homework and readings, but it wasn’t too much work.

PS: What was the main creative work that you did?

MC: I played around with words, and a poem. We did poetry, fiction, and nonfiction.

PS: Oh, so you wrote in all the genres?

MC: Yes. We did free-writing in all of them, and I think it was considered acceptable to take something old and bring it to class and work on it, too, as long as you made changes to it.

PS: So you worked on a new poem?

MC: I did work on a poem, a new one, and one that I had an idea for earlier on. My biggest achievement was a short story that I turned into a novel for my senior seminar.

PS: Oh, wow! So the basis of your project came out of that workshop?

MC: It sort of did—it didn’t begin there, but it really flourished during that time.

PS: I know you and some other students went on a trip to Alabama with Harjo. Could you tell me what you guys did and why you went?

MC: Yeah, it was me and two other students. It was on Saturday, after the class had ended—she had suggested it to everyone. It was fun. I actually sat in the front with her and helped guide her to Horseshoe Bend. We all talked and listened to music. She changed the radio a lot, because she likes a lot of music. I think she liked old rock ‘n roll the best.

PS: So what did you go to Horseshoe Bend to see?

MC: I would call it a ceremonial dance. There was also a historical reenactment. The area was really important. The Muscogee Indians had lived there and fought U.S. troops, but it ended in a massacre. People are still coming back there, though, so they were not really defeated, in a way.

There were all sorts of different things there. The women wore these really cool boots with shells or deer hooves on them to make them clink when they walked, and the men would sing and spiral walk around the fire.

PS: What was it like to have this cultural experience with her?

MC: I had been to similar gatherings before. In a way it was familiar, but it was also new. It was very special for her. She wore cans around her feet filled with rocks inside to make noise while she walked. Some people were kind of mad because it wasn’t traditional, but others seemed to be like, “Way to make it new!”

PS: Tell me about the impromptu reading she had your class give to the campus.

MC: We all picked something we had written in class. It was the first time I had read my piece aloud and for an audience.

PS: The poem, or the short story?

MC: The short story. It was really nice how Joy had talked about each one of us before we read—it was so special and so cool. That also reminds me of how she had us give an anecdote about our names—who gave them to us, their meeting, if we’ve accepted it, if we had made nicknames for ourselves.

PS: What’s your take away from the experience? Would you recommend other students take the Writers Festival workshop?

MC: I would recommend it. If you’re new to writing, it might be difficult, because it’s intense. It’s like jumping into a lake instead of walking into one.

Students who have taken at least one writing workshop are eligible to register for the 2013 Writers Festival writing workshop, this year taught by visiting writer Cristina Garcia. For information, contact English Department Chair Dr. Christine Cozzens at ccozzens@agnesscott.edu.

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