Kick-Off Event with Joy Harjo

There is only one week until the kick-off of our 2021 Big Read programming! We are so excited to learn alongside you and engage creatively with this year’s selection An American Sunrise and Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story. 

Joy Harjo is a poet, musician, author, and activist from the Muscogee Nation. She is also the current poet laureate of the United States. Her collection of poems, An American Sunrise, is our 2021 selected book.

In anticipation of our virtual kick-off event with Joy Harjo at 7pm, I wanted to share one of my favorite poems from An American Sunrise. 

An American Sunrise by Joy Harjo 
We were running out of breath, as we ran out to meet ourselves. We
were surfacing the edge of our ancestors’ fights, and ready to strike.
It was difficult to lose days in the Indian bar if you were straight.
Easy if you played pool and drank to remember to forget. We
made plans to be professional — and did. And some of us could sing
so we drummed a fire-lit pathway up to those starry stars. Sin
was invented by the Christians, as was the Devil, we sang. We
were the heathens, but needed to be saved from them — thin
chance. We knew we were all related in this story, a little gin
will clarify the dark and make us all feel like dancing. We
had something to do with the origins of blues and jazz
I argued with a Pueblo as I filled the jukebox with dimes in June,
forty years later and we still want justice. We are still America. We
know the rumors of our demise. We spit them out. They die

I like this poem because Harjo decided to use this title for the title of her book. This collection of poems allows readers to connect to Harjo’s memories and emotions. This poem captures her perspective on her Native American heritage and the displacement of her people. 

My favorite lines from this poem are, “And some of us could sing / so we drummed a fire-lit pathway up to those starry stars.” These lines capture Harjo’s dream of change and a reverence for natural things like stars. 

We hope you are able to join us virtually to learn more about Joy Harjo’s experiences and celebrate her work together! 

To access the link for our kick-off event with Joy Harjo, please go here.

Little Read Story Walks

One of our favorite aspects of our Big Read and Little Read programs are the community partnerships we’ve been able to establish with area schools, libraries, arts centers and museums, and non-profit organizations.

Little Read Story Walk

This year, we’ve been especially grateful for conversations, feedback, and insights from people at Gun Lake Tribe. One of the ways Gun Lake Tribe is partnering with us is through a Little Read Story Walk at Hawthorne Park in Holland. This event represents a celebration of partnerships as it also involves our friends at Herrick District Library and the Ottawa County Parks and Recreation.  

Homepage | Gun Lake Tribe

The Gun Lake Tribe is a Band of Pottawatomi Indians of Michigan. The Three Fires Condeferacry of the Pottawatomi, Ottawa, and Chippewa originally comprised the Great Lakes territory. The Tribal Government is housed at the government campus in Bradley, MI, the Tribal Nation’s capital. 

Gun Lake Tribe is focused on, “continuing to provide education and information about the history and culture of the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians so that these traditions and beliefs may continue to be passed down to future generations.”  We encourage our Lakeshore readers to learn more about Gun Lake Tribe by going to their website.

Herrick District Library is also working hard to make this event a success. Herrick District Library is located on South River Avenue in Holland, MI. They offer programs and classes for all ages, meeting space, small business counseling, and friendly staff. Herrick District Library also hosts awesome events like the Little Read Community Cookbook and Author Event with Angeline Boulley, who wrote Firekeeper’s Daughter. Learn more about their events and services here.

Lastly, the Ottawa County Parks and Recreation are partnering on this event. The Ottawa County Parks and Recreation offers nature programs and volunteer opportunities for all ages throughout the year. They also help promote our parks and the natural beauty of the area. Use this link to learn more about the Ottawa County Parks and Recreation.

Hawthorn Pond Natural Area

The Little Read Story Walk displays this year’s Little Read Lakeshore book Fry Bread: An Native American Family Story. Participants can read page by page as they walk the beautiful trails of Hawthorn Pond Natural Area, an area previously occupied by the Three Fires Confederacy. 

The concept of a story walk is that it is an outdoor reading experience with a children’s book. The pages of the book are laminated and placed on wooden stakes along a walking trail.

We’re thrilled to have two Story Walk events in our Little Read program this year. The one at Hawthorne Park is available for exploration now through October 17 anytime the park is open.

StoryWalk® at Central Park: Fry Bread: a Native American Family Story!

Kevin Noble Maillard’s book Fry Bread will be posted on signs along the path for your family to read together. Stroll along this walk from Monday, November 8, through Sunday, November 14, until 5 pm. Your walk will take you on a paved, stroller-friendly loop through the park.

Grand Haven Central Park - Grand Haven, MI

This event is part of a StoryWalk® series created in partnership by Loutit District Library, Spring Lake District Library, the Tri-Cities Historical Museum, Ottawa County Parks & Recreation, the Village of Spring Lake, the City of Grand Haven, and NEA Big Read Lakeshore. LDL StoryWalks® are made possible through the generosity of Carol Alexander and Kevin Carbary.

Loutit District Library can be found in Grand Haven, MI, and aims to expand horizons, enriching minds, and engage the community. Did you know Edward P. Ferry, a mining investor, opened a room above his office on First Street for the purpose of reading and lending books? He became the President of the Grand Haven Library Association in 1882, which served as the first effort to establish a public library.

Spring Lake District Library is located in Spring Lake, MI. Their mission aims to, “connect and strengthen our community through a welcoming environment open to everyone, providing access to a wide variety of materials and experiences.

Tri-Cities Historical Museum is located in Grand Haven, MI, and is open for visitors Tuesday-Friday from 10a.m. to 5p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. The Tri-Cities Historical Museum values inclusiveness, adaptability, stewardship, and wonder.

A special thank you to all of the partners and cities that make the Little Read happen. We hope to see you at the Little Read Storywalks this November!

What Exactly is the Poet Laureate?

On October 1, the Big Read events for the November 2021 programming went live. Check out the events on our website! 

Our kick-off speaker this November is Joy Harjo, the current poet laureate and author of several memoirs and poetry collections. Harjo will join the lakeshore community on October 25 in Dimnent Chapel with a virtual option for viewers. 

What exactly is a Poet Laureate? 

The Poet Laureate serves as a consultant to the Library of Congress. This position continues to develop the poetry collections in the Library of Congress, organizes poetry events, and fosters an appreciation for reading and writing in the nation. 

Poet Laureate Fun Facts: 

  1. There have been 16 male poet laureates and 7 female poet laureates. 
  2. The Librarian of Congress appoints the new poet laureate with the help of the past poet laureates, poetry critics, and staff at the Library of Congress. 
  3. The poet laureate generally serves two terms. Two poet laureates have served three terms: Robert Pinskey during the Library of Congress’s Bicentennial and Joy Harjo. 

Joy Harjo as Poet Laureate: 

About - Joy Harjo
Picture from Joy Harjo’s official website:

Joy Harjo has served for three terms as the poet laureate because she is developing a project called “Living Nations, Living Words.” This collection contains audio files from 47 contemporary Native American poets reading and discussing their poems. 

Harjo describes her project on the Library of Congress website stating, “As the first Native U.S. Poet Laureate, I decided that my signature project should introduce the country to the many Native poets who live in these lands. Our communities innately shared and share poetry from before the founding of the United States to the present.” 

Stayed tuned for more posts about our 2021 programming! Comment below and tell us what events most excite you!  

Q&A with Poet in Residence Jack Ridl

Poetry Journal Highlights the Poetry and Career of Jack Ridl

Our Big Read team is excited to announce that Jack Ridl will be our Poet in Residence this November for our 2021 Big Read program.

Jack Ridl began teaching English at Hope College in 1971 until he retired in 2006. He is the author of several national award-winning collections, as well as poetry textbooks and anthologies. His most recent collection, St. Peter and the Goldfinch, Wayne State University Press, was released in 2019. His poems have appeared in more than 300 journals, and his work has been featured in numerous literary anthologies. He has given readings of his work and led workshops at colleges, universities, art colonies, elementary and high schools, and other venues around the country. More than 90 of his students’ work has been published.

1. Why do you enjoy poetry and what made you decide to become a professor of English? 

I don’t so much enjoy poetry as I find it the only way my brain works. Poetry is a way into and to see everything in the world. The poems of others open and widens my experience of everything and affirms that there is no such thing as the ordinary. I never decided to be a professor of English. I did want to teach in ways that would be helpful and meaningful to the lives of students both in their present and future. 

2. How do you think the poetry selection, An American Sunrise, will benefit our Lakeshore community? 

An American Sunrise suggests that it is time for a metaphorical sunrise of awareness of the native peoples and their cultures and ways of caring for the earth, all of which were eradicated by colonization. There is so much we could learn from them, and it’s nearly too late to restore respect for what they value and know, and to enable them to live their lives with dignity and without impoverishment on all levels.

3. What inspires your poetry? 

I go through my day titling my experiences and then write out from any title that brings my imagination to life. I follow the poem wherever it leads.

4. Do you have any advice for readers as they approach An American Sunrise?

Try to get yourselves out from under the tyranny of the reductionist question “What does it mean?” The poems are “about” being. Once you enter the poem as a creation of experience you can discern multiple realizations, and make discoveries within the poem. Attend to whatever in the poem grabs your attention and curiosity. If nothing does, simply move on to another. Suspend trying to “figure out” the poem. Instead, open yourself to letting the poem affect you, and realize that there is a voice talking to you in language that is musical. There are many, many things to find of interest within the poem. Instead of getting trapped in the word “meaning,” use the word “meaningful.” What do you realize, discover that is particularly meaningful? Enjoy the opportunity to leave your own world for a time.

Native American Art: Kruizenga Museum Collection

Throughout September, our social media account is announcing some exciting events for our November programming. Check out @bigreadlakeshore on Instagram and Facebook for updates!

Kruizenga Art Museum

One event has already begun! The Kruizenga Art Museum at Hope College presents Native American Art: Recent Acquisitions from the Kruizenga Museum Collection. The Kruizenga Art Museum features paintings, prints, photographs, and sculptures ranging from 1984 to 2021.

This event was inspired by the 2021 Big Read Lakeshore book selections. As part of its commitment to expand the cultural diversity of its collection, the Kruizenga Art Museum began collecting work by Native American artists. 

The museum’s goal is gradually to “acquire artworks made by indigenous artists from different regions and tribes in a variety of media to reflect the continuing vitality, creativity, and relevance of Native American culture.” 

Admission to the exhibit is free and visitors can attend the exhibit from Tuesday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. 

My favorite piece from the exhibit is the oil painting by Nocona Burgess entitled Eka Numu, Red Comanche. The description of the piece explains that the bold colors and brushwork were done to give the subjects a powerful presence. 

Check out the digital gallery and comment below with your favorite piece!

Joy Harjo: Poet Warrior

Last week our 2021 author, Joy Harjo, released Poet Warrior: A Memoir. This book serves as a follow-up to her previous memoir Crazy Brave. 

Poet Warrior' Joy Harjo Wants Native Peoples To Be Seen As Human : NPR

NPR reviewed this book saying, “This is a book about pain and growth; a narrative that shines a light on compassion and stresses the importance of rituals. Harjo talks about the significance of our ancestors’ stories and lessons, discusses the music that shaped her childhood in a broken home, and shares her understanding — and conversations — with other artists, her family and elders, messenger owls, snakes, birds, and plants.” 

This is the perfect book to read to learn more about our Big Read kick-off author and prepare for her upcoming visit! During our kick-off event on October 25 participants will have the chance to learn more about her story. 

Below is one of my favorite poems from her book of poems An American Sunrise, which talks about being a warrior. The final lines are my favorite, which read, “But it is not in me to give up./ I was taught to give honour to the house of the warriors/Which cannot exist without the house of the peacemakers.”

The Fight by Joy Harjo 
The rising sun paints the feet
of night-crawling enemies.
And they scatter into the burning hills.
I have fought each of them.
I know them by name.
From before I could speak.
I’ve used every weapon.
To make them retreat.
Yet they return every night
If I don’t keep guard
They elbow through openings in faith
Tear the premise of trust
And stick their shields through the doubt of smoke
To challenge me.
I grow tired of the heartache
Of every small and large war
Passed from generation
To generation.
But it is not in me to give up.
I was taught to give honour to the house of the warriors
Which cannot exist without the house of the peacemakers. 

Beautiful Changes

Today is Labor Day, which typically signals the end of summer as students head back to school and the weather slowly begins to change. 

Since I headed back to school and began my junior year at Hope College I have been thinking about change. I do not often think of change as beautiful because I enjoy routine and consistency. However, this poem by Richard Wilbur reminded me that change is necessary for summer to turn into fall, my favorite season.

The Beautiful Changes
By Richard Wilbur

One wading a Fall meadow finds on all sides   
The Queen Anne’s Lace lying like lilies
On water; it glides
So from the walker, it turns
Dry grass to a lake, as the slightest shade of you
Valleys my mind in fabulous blue Lucernes.

The beautiful changes as a forest is changed   
By a chameleon’s tuning his skin to it;   
As a mantis, arranged
On a green leaf, grows
Into it, makes the leaf leafier, and proves   
Any greenness is deeper than anyone knows.

Your hands hold roses always in a way that says   
They are not only yours; the beautiful changes   
In such kind ways,   
Wishing ever to sunder
Things and things’ selves for a second finding, to lose   
For a moment all that it touches back to wonder.

One of my favorite things about this poem is the word choice. I had to google some of the words, such as Lucernes (a term for alfalfa) and sunder.

The poem is filled with plants and animals, which brings it to life. It also makes me feel at peace as if I was in nature. I could clearly see a pond with water lilies on the surface as Wilbur describes. 

My favorite lines of the poem are, “the beautiful changes/ In such kind ways,/ Wishing ever to sunder/ Things and things’ selves for a second finding, to lose/ For a moment all that it touches back to wonder.” 

These lines remind me that change takes time to get used to, but it also often allows us to discover something new and wonderful.

Poetry Forms

The form of a poem is one of the first things readers notice about a poem. Oftentimes a poet chooses a form that fits with the message of the poem. 

Below are a few types of poetry and poems that fit within this category. These may be helpful when reading Joy Harjo’s book, An American Sunrise, or any poetry you may find yourself reading! 


Sonnets are characterized by 14 lines, a set rhyme scheme, and iambic pentameter. This type of poetry is often associated with Shakespeare. Themes of sonnets are often love or romance, death, time, faith, or another serious topic. I wrote a sonnet once in a creative writing class. It took me a long time to write the sonnet, but the form forced me to think carefully about each line and the words I chose. This made it a better poem and more intentional than a poem without a specific structure. 

Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day by William Shakespeare

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course, untrimmed;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,
Nor shall death brag thou wand’rest in his shade,
When in eternal lines to Time thou grow’st.
    So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
    So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.


Haiku originated in Japan and follows the 5/7/5 rule. This means there are five syllables in the first line, seven in the second, and five in the last line. These poems capture a brief moment in time. Because these poems are so short, they often use vibrant or colorful images and are a more simplistic example of poetry. I enjoy haikus because writers pack so much into only a few syllables. A member of the Big Read team, Karen Rowe, tends to write a haiku a day! 

“The Old Pond” by Matsuo Bashō
Old pond…
a frog jumps in
water’s sound


This type of poetry is written in couplets, which means each stanza has two lines. A repeated word or phrase can be found at the end of both lines in the first couplet, then in the second line of the following couplets. Poets usually place their names at the end of the final couplet as a signature. This is something I like most about this type of poetry and fits well with the typical themes of a ghazal, which are love, longing, or large questions about the world.

Excerpt from Even the Rain by Agha Shahid Ali

What will suffice for a true-love knot? Even the rain?
But he has bought grief’s lottery, bought even the rain.

“Our glosses / wanting in this world”—“Can you remember?”
Anyone!—“when we thought / the poets taught” even the rain?

After we died—That was it!—God left us in the dark.
And as we forgot the dark, we forgot even the rain…


Villanelles have five tercets, which means the poem begins with five stanzas with three lines. These poems have 19 lines total and contain the repetition of rhyme and refrains. The subjects of these poems are often rustic or pastoral subjects. I have never written a villanelle, but I like the rhythm the rhyme and line lengths create. These are longer poems, but the repetition of lines causes the reader to read faster.

Excerpt from Do not go gentle into that good night by Dylan Thomas

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light…

Check out more types of poems here. Sometimes poems do not even have forms, known as a free verse poem. Comment below with your favorite type of poetry or poem!!

Behind the Read and Podcast Recommendations

Last week we announced our new podcast, Behind the Read, a podcast offering listeners insights and perspectives on all that goes into, around, and behind the act of reading. Our host and program director, Dr. Deb Van Duinen, will talk about all things reading, literacy, and books with friends of the Big Read Lakeshore.

Podcasts are perfect for a commute to work, running errands, or completing chores. There are podcasts for all topics or interests. Check out a few podcast recommendations to prepare you for the launch of our new content! 

How I Built This: 

How I Built This with Guy Raz : NPR

This podcast is hosted by Guy Raz from NPR. Raz interviews different entrepreneurs and innovators to learn how their companies became successful. Many memorable brands and companies are featured like Kate Spade, Airbnb, the Clif Bar, and many more. I enjoy learning about creativity and perseverance when creating a business. 

Grammar Girl: 

Grammar Girl :: Quick and Dirty Tips ™

Grammar is certainly a challenging subject and takes a lot of attention to detail. These short podcasts offer hundreds of topics ranging from active vs. passive voice to homonyms to point of view. Mignon Fogarty hosts this podcast in hopes of creating better writers. 

Nice White Parents: 

Introducing: Nice White Parents - The New York Times

One of my college professors assigned this short 5 episode podcast for homework one of my semesters at Hope College. This podcast is about integration in schools and the impact of “nice white parents” in schools. The host Chana Joffe-Walt investigates a school in Brooklyn from its founding to its present. 

Crime Junkie: 

Crime Junkie Podcast | Crime Junkie Podcast

This podcast hosted by Ashley Flowers and Brit Prawat is one of my favorites for long drives to and from school. Crime Junkie showcases the power of storytelling and investigative skills and is one of the top true crime podcasts. 

Stuff You Should Know: 

Stuff You Should Know | iHeartRadio

Stuff You Should Know offers episodes with a variety of topics. Are curious about why toothpaste and orange juice do not mix, how fireflies and lightning bugs work, or what causes inflation? My siblings and I like sharing fun facts and I always learn something new when I listen to this podcast. 

Comment below with some of your favorite podcasts to listen to and subscribe to Behind the Big Read wherever you get your podcasts! 

Encounter with Cultures

Last semester, I took a required Education course called “Encounter with Cultures” taught by Professor Susan Cherup. In this course, there was a unit on Native Americans with readings focused on Native Americans and current Native American issues. All of this helped prepare me so well to read our upcoming Big Read 2021 book, An American Sunrise, by Joy Harjo.

If you are looking to learn more about Native Americans in preparation for your reading of our Big Read book, I encourage you to give these books and movies a try! 

Soldier, Lydia Whirlwind 1942- [WorldCat Identities]

One meaningful read was an excerpt from Shaping Survival: Essays by Four American Indian Tribal Women by Lydia Whirlwind Soldier. She is one of the six Native American voices joining us in November to share her story! 

Lydia Whirlwind Soldier went to an Indian Boarding School. The most famous boarding school is the Carlisle Indian School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. I live nearby and have family in this town, so it surprised me that I knew so little about the boarding school. 

The movie Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee was based on the book of the same name by Dee Brown. It tells the story of Sitting Bull, a Sioux chief, Charles Eastman, a Native American who became a doctor, and the displaced Native Americans as settlers moved West. This movie was very emotional and sad. I’ve learned about these concepts or people, but it was different to watch the history on the screen. 

My favorite book from the class was Neither Wolf Nor Dog, a novel by Kent Nerburn. Kent traveled to the Lakota Indian Reservation to learn from an Indian elder named Dan. It was easy for me to relate to Nerburn since he was trying to learn and gain a better understanding from Dan. One of the things I appreciated most about this book is that the reader gets to learn from someone who makes mistakes while trying to navigate Lakota culture and relationships. 

“Encounters with Culture” was one of my favorite courses at Hope College and showed me how much more there is to learn about various cultures. I’m excited for our community to learn about similar topics from our Big Read speakers this fall.

If you want to get a head start on your learning, check out the Native American authors who will be participating in our program on our Instagram @bigreadlakeshore or read/watch one of the resources above!