Book Review: How We Became Human

Feb 2, 2018

This is KLCC.  I’m Connie Bennett, Director of Eugene Public Library, with a book review of “How We Became Human” by Joy Harjo.

The National Endowment for the Arts has partnered with Arts Midwest to support over a decade of “Big Read” programs across the nation, in which an entire community reads and explores a single book, together.   Why?  Well, studies show that reading for pleasure reduces stress, heightens empathy, slows the onset of dementia, and makes us more active and aware citizens.   One such opportunity for discovery is poet Joy Harjo, visiting Eugene this weekend to keynote the fourth “Big Read” program with her “How We Became Human.”

The book is a collection of Harjo’s poetry written across a twenty-six year period, providing the reader insight into the evolution of not only a remarkable poetic voice, but also the development of a remarkable person.  Her writing is deeply personal, rooted in her individual experience as a woman and Native American, and at the same time, universal in exploring human pain, compassion, and love.

Even if you’re not usually a poetry fan, Harjo’s work is surprisingly accessible.  There’s a strong storytelling component and recurring natural imagery such as crows, horses, and the landscapes of the Southwest.  The poems beat with the pulse of myth and music.  "Don't worry about what a poem means,” Harjo tells us.  “Do you ask what a song means before you listen? Just listen."

Harjo will be reading her poetry at the UO this afternoon February 2nd and speaking at the Library at 3pm Saturday, February 3rd.

This is KLCC.  I’m Connie Bennett, reviewing “How We Became Human” by Joy Harjo.