Natasha Trethewey named 19th US poet laureate
An English and creative writing professor at Emory University in Atlanta, she began writing poetry at the age of 19 after her mother was killed by her second husband.
She has also written about the interracial marriage of her parents – her mother was black and her father was white – that was still a crime in her native Mississippi in the mid-1960s.
Librarian of Congress, James Billington, who made the appointment, acknowledged the personal nature of her writing when he said:
“Her poems dig beneath the surface of history—personal or communal, from childhood or from a century ago—to explore the human struggles that we all face.”
Trethewey won the Pulitzer Prize for her book of poems titled “Native Guard” in 2007. These focused on the unrecorded history of the Louisiana Native Guard, a black Civil War regiment assigned to guard white Confederate soldiers on Ship Island off Mississippi’s Gulf Coast.
The Confederate prisoners were later memorialized on the island, but not the black Union soldiers.
Trethewey’s other honors include fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Study Center, and the Bunting Fellowship Program of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard.
She has also received the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Book Prize and the Lillian Smith Award for Poetry.
The Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry is appointed annually by the Librarian of the United States Congress and serves from October to May.