Natasha Trethewey, 46, named U.S. poet laureate


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In a surprising change from its trend of selecting senior, octogenarian poets, the Library of Congress announced Thursday that 46-year-old Natasha Trethewey will be U.S poet laureate for 2012-2013.

Despite her relative youth, Trethewey has logged accomplishments, notably receiving the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for her collection ‘Native Guard.’ She is the author of two prior poetry collections, ‘Domestic Work,’ (2000) and ‘Bellocq’s Ophelia’ (2002), and the 2010 nonfiction book, ‘Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.’ Another collection of poetry, ‘Thrall,’ is set to be published later this year.


Trethewey is to take over the post in September after Philip Levine, 84, concludes his term. Levine succeeded W.S. Merwin, who was named poet laureate at age 81.

‘I’m still a little in disbelief,” Trethewey told the New York Times this week, before her selection had been publicly announced.

The selection of Trethewey marks a shift in more than generational focus. Trethewey was born in Gulfport, Miss., and is now a professor at Emory University in Atlanta. She is the first Southern writer to be selected as U.S.poet laureate since the first, Robert Penn Warren, who assumed the role in 1986.

What’s more, she is the first African American poet laureate since Rita Dove, who served from 1993 through 1995.

In a news release, Librarian of Congress James H. Billington praised Trethewey as ‘an outstanding poet/historian.’ He explained, ‘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, who is currently Mississippi’s poet laureate, will serve the term as U.S. poet laureate concurrently. She has elected to live and work in Washington from January through May of 2013, becoming the first U.S. poet laureate to choose to work in the Poets Room at the Library of Congress during her term.


Robert Casper, head of the Poetry and Literature Center at the Library of Congress, said in a statement, ‘I am thrilled our next Poet Laureate will spend the second half of her term in the Library’s ‘Catbird Seat.’ There she will impact the capital and the country even more powerfully, as one of our great poets of reclamation and reckoning.’


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-- Carolyn Kellogg