36 pages 1 hour read

Joy Harjo

Crazy Brave: A Memoir

Nonfiction | Autobiography / Memoir | Adult | Published in 2012

A modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, SuperSummary offers high-quality Study Guides with detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, and more.

Summary and Study Guide


Crazy Brave: A Memoir is an autobiographical work by poet, writer, artist, and musician Joy Harjo that was published by W. W. Norton and Company in 2012. The memoir follows the life of Joy Harjo from birth to adulthood and her struggles with spirituality and creativity while living with various alcoholic and abusive men. Over the course of her life, she discovers that poetry, art, storytelling, and music can liberate her from her oppressive domestic environments. Joy Harjo became the first Native American poet laureate of the United States in 2019 and is a member of the Mvskoke (Creek) Nation.

The memoir is divided into four parts, each representing a stage in Harjo’s life. The first part, “East,” represents her beginnings, and Harjo recounts her birth and childhood living with her mother and father in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She writes extensively of her experiences in the spiritual realm as well, remembering her time in this realm before she was born. During her childhood, Harjo lives happily and discovers her passion for art and music as well as her responsibility to tell stories. Her mother is a beautiful, vibrant woman, and her father is a charming man but an alcoholic, and she adores both of them. Eventually her mother divorces her father.

The second part, “North,” focuses on struggle and difficult lessons, and Harjo undergoes much pain in this part of her life after her mother marries a new man. Harjo’s stepfather is an alcoholic and even more abusive toward her mother than her father was, and he also beats and torments Harjo and her siblings. As his abuses become more severe, Harjo loses touch with her spiritual side as well as her creativity, which emerge only in rare moments to protect her through a sense she calls the knowing. When Harjo is accepted to an Indian art school in Santa Fe, New Mexico, she rediscovers her artistic side and part of her spirituality and connects further with her Native American culture.

In the third part, “West,” which features themes of tests and finding one’s way out of the dark, Harjo becomes impregnated by a new boyfriend at school. She leaves school to take care of her daughter and leaves her dreams and ambitions behind in the process, living in poverty with her alcoholic boyfriend-turned-husband.

The fourth part, “South,” represents release and transformation. Harjo leaves her husband and becomes involved in the American Indian rights movement, and she starts a relationship with a poet. However, he is an alcoholic and violently abusive, and she begins to have intense panic attacks and fear of death. A spiritual vision leads to the epiphany that she must leave her boyfriend and break the cycle of abuse, and she finds poetry as a way to heal.


Throughout the memoir, Harjo explores themes of alcoholism and abuse of women, sexism in society and in the American Indian community, and racism and American Indian rights. All these themes emerge through memories, stories, anecdotes, and dreams throughout Joy Harjo’s life. Crazy Brave is a personal story about Joy Harjo’s struggle against an oppressive society to find her independence and spirituality, leading to her becoming a successful poet and artist.