Amherst ‘Big Read’ events highlight work of US Poet Laureate and late Monacan poet, scholar | Latest Headlines

From Staff Reports

Amherst Glebe Arts Response, Inc. (AGAR) and community partners Amherst County Public Library, Museum and Historical Society and Public Schools, Amherst Woman’s Club, Central Virginia Alliance for Community Living (CVACL), Central Virginia Community College, Monacan Nation and Monacan Nation Cultural Foundation and Sweet Briar College have begun reading “An American Sunrise” by US Poet Laureate Joy Harjo.

Harjo is an enrolled member of the Mvscogee (Creek) Tribe. In addition to her fame as a US Poet Laureate, Harjo is also well known as a saxophone and flute player, a playwright and a speaker.

The month-long project is funded by the National Endowment for the Arts Big Read, administered by Arts Midwest. AGAR and partners are the only Virginia organizations to have received a Big Read grant in 2021-2022, according to a news release from the Amherst nonprofit. All partnering agencies will conduct Big Read activities and will hold book discussions on “An American Sunrise.” CVACL will hold readings and discussions using “Grand Pads for Seniors” to reach audience members receiving delivered meals at home.

People are also reading…

On March 13 at 2:30 pm the Amherst County Museum and Historical Society will host the kickoff program for the Big Read, a panel and exhibit presentation “Karenne Wood (1960-2019), Virginia Poet, Mother, Monacan Scholar and Historian.” The program will focus on the life and work of Karenne Wood with an introduction from Kenneth Branham, chief of the Monacan Indian Nation. Diane Shields, chair/director of Monacan Nation Cultural Foundation will speak, along with others. Adrienne Brown, Wood’s daughter de ella, will speak about her family de ella and read her mother’s poems de ella and Teresa Pollak, Wood’s friend, traveling companion and Monacan activist, will speak of visits to Virginia tribes and Wood’s scholarly pursuits.

Winona Gear, Monacan tribal member, will speak about Wood’s input into the new museum exhibit and her influence on younger Monacans.

Accompanying exhibits include a temporary exhibit of personal items of Karenne Wood, including her regalia, beadwork, and scholarly writings; a touring exhibit on her life, her scholarship, poetry, and family; and the formal opening of the Amherst County Permanent exhibit “The Monacan People, Pre and Post-contact eras.”

On Monday, March 14 at 4 pm in the 1948 Theater of the Fitness and Athletic Center at

Sweet Briar College, Harjo will read and discuss live with the audience over Zoom from Tulsa, Oklahoma, her book of poems “An American Sunrise.” To register to watch Harjo at the theater or to register to watch live, visit

Amy Ostroth and Carrie Brown from Sweet Briar will conduct the session, and Marcia Robertson and Lynn Kable will make sure the audience gets to ask their questions.

Also on March 14 at 7 pm at the Monacan Nation Community Center, 111 Highview, Madison Heights, Harjo will read and discuss Native American poetry of her own and of others, including Karenne Wood. After the reading there will be a question-and-answer session to be moderated by Diane Shields of the Monacans and Amy Ostroth and Jeffrey Owen of Sweet Briar with help from AGAR. A Zoom presentation will be held at the gathering. To register to attend the Zoom talk online, visit

On Wednesday, March 6, at 11 am in the Amherst County Public Library,

Amherst Branch, 382 South Main Street, Amherst, a discussion of “An American Sunrise” will be held. Librarian Jacob Etter will lead the community discussion and a YouTube showing of Harjo’s March 14 talk at Sweet Briar will be shown with exhibits on display about Harjo and Wood.

On Wednesday, March 18, at 11 am at Madison Heights Library, 200 River James Plaza, Madison Heights, a discussion on Native American poems written by Harjo and Wodo will be held. Harjo’s presentation shown at the Monacan Cultural Center on March 14 will be repeated during this event.


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