On April 8, U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo will deliver the keynote address at Bay Shore High School’s Ethnic Pen Conference. Harjo’s daylong residency is one of over 56 programs organized by Teatro Experimental Yerbabruja and funded by a National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Big Read Grant that Teatro Experimental Yerbabruja was awarded.
The Big Read Grant, which began in 2006, provides funds to organizations to create a comprehensive community reading program. Applicants select book choices from a selection curated by NEA Big Read. Margarita Espada, the founder and director of Teatro Experimental Yerbabruja said she was drawn to the book of poems “American Sunrise” by Harjo. After reaching out to Harjo’s agent as well as ensuring funding from Bay Shore Schools Arts Endowment Fund to bring Harjo in for the keynote address, the organization was able to include Harjo’s residency as a point on their application.
Board member at Teatro Experimental Yerbabruja, Cathay Barbash, said the organization learned that they had been awarded full funding with the grant in the spring of 2021.
“She’s such a brilliant community organizer in addition to being a cultural organizer, that she created a proposal that was ranked by the NEA as one of the very best in the country for that year,” Barbash said of Espada’s application. “She made an incredible proposal with an incredible number of partners and a diverse type of partners.”
Later, on April 8, Harjo will present a reading from “American Sunrise” at the Avram Fine Arts Center at Stony Brook University Southampton at 7 p.m. The Fine Arts Center sits on traditional Shinnecock Land.
Along with the partnership with Bay Shore Schools and many others, Teatro Experimental Yerbabruja is partnering with Denise “Weetahmoe” Silva-Dennis and the Shinnecock Nation to host activities on the Shinnecock Reservation. Silva-Dennis is a multidisciplinary artist and educator and helped to organize events that will take place at Ma’s House & BIPOC Art Studio on the reservation on Saturday, April 2. Ma’s House & BIPOC Art Studio is an artspace for Black, Indigenous, and people of color led by Indigenous artist Jeremy Dennis, who is Silva-Dennis’s son. The event, on April 2, which will take place from 6 to 8 p.m., will be a community reading of “American Sunrise.” The event is free to the public, but attendees should register by visiting https://www.mashouse.studio/.
Through the NEA Big Reads Grant, Teatro Yerbabruja has been hosting activities related to Harjo’s “American Sunrise” since Indigenous People’s Day on Oct. 17, 2021, and will run through June 16, 2022.
About Joy Harjo
In 2019, Harjo was appointed the 23rd United States Poet Laureate making her the first Native American to hold the position and only the second person to serve three terms in the role. The United States Poet Laureate is the official poet of the United States and is appointed by the Librarian of Congress. Harjo is the author of nine books of poetry, several plays and children’s books and two memoirs. In addition, Harjo is an accomplished musician with seven award-winning albums. Harjo lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. To learn more about Harjo visit joyharjo.com.
About Teatro Experimental Yerbabruja, Inc
Founded in 2004 by Margarita Espada, Teatro Experimental Yerbabruja aims to connect the arts with constructive social change and economic opportunity. The non-profit is named after the yerbabruja which is a plant that flourishes in the harshest conditions and “survives for a better tomorrow with just the sunlight for hope.” Located in Bay Shore, and housed in the Second House Firehouse, a 100-year-old building that once served as the home of Hook and Ladder Co. No. 1 the organization boasts an art gallery, classes, artist studio time and youth programs. Teatro Yerbabrujo is a first-time recipient of NEA funding and one of only 61 organizations nationwide and one of just four organizations in the state to receive a NEA Big Read Grant. To learn more about Teatro Experimental Yerbabruja visit teatroyerbabruja.org.
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