Joy Harjo

An American Sunrise author Joy Harjo enjoys the mid-day sun as the crowd of students files into the bleachers.

Moujan Moghimi
High School North junior Moujan Moghimi performs her poem, "If I Could Talk to Icarus."

Outdoor Keynote Event Serves as First School Assembly in 15 Months

May 27, 2021-- NEA Big Read: Toms River's 2021 Keynote Event witnessed students gathering together-- outdoors, masked, and separated on bleachers-- for the first time in more than a year. That alone made it memorable. But performances from students and a keynote presentation from author, artist, and U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo made it resonate even more.

In honor of this year's NEA Big Read, the district hosted poetry slams for both intermediate and high school students, with the winners earning prizes and the opportunity to perform at the keynote event. High School North junior Moujan Moghimi and Intermediate East eighth grader Nina Debellis wowed with their respective poems "If I Could Talk to Icarus," and "The Boys." HSN theater students also performed poems, and introduced the event and its guest of honor.

Joy Harjo, author of An American Sunrise and poised to serve a rare third consecutive term as the U.S. Poet Laureate, provided the keynote presentation. Harjo spoke from the heart about her Native American heritage and personal upbringing, played the flute beautifully, read poems from Sunrise and her other works, and finished with a song-- directly from her phone into the mic-- from her latest album. The event was livestreamed and anyone who missed it can watch here:


Harjo remained on site to sign free copies of Sunrise for the students, staff members, administrators, board members, and families in attendance.

It was a feel-good event from beginning to end, and while it was the culmination of NEA Big Read, it seemed like a beginning or, as Harjo herself might say, a sunrise.

Additional photos from the event are below.

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