Natasha Trethewey, author of three poetry collections and winner of the Pulitzer Prize, was named on Thursday as the 19th U.S. poet laureate, becoming only the second Southerner appointed to the position.
The Library of Congress, in announcing the appointment, said Trethewey would succeed Philip Levine and officially take up her duties in the fall, around the time her fourth collection, “Thrall,” is due to be published.
Trethewey, an English and creative writing professor at Emory University in Atlanta, won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in poetry for her collection “Native Guard.” In addition to poetry, she is the author of a non-fiction book, “Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.”
Trethewey, 46, was born in Gulfport, Mississippi, and becomes the first U.S. poet laureate from the South since Robert Penn Warren, who was appointed to the job in 1944.
“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,” Librarian of Congress James Billington said in a statement.
She is the first African-American to be appointed to the position since Rita Dove in 1993.
Dove said in an introduction of Trethewey’s first collection, “Domestic Work,” released in 2000 that included portraits of black workers in a pre-civil rights era, “Trethewey eschews the Polaroid instant, choosing to render the unsuspecting yearnings and tremulous hopes that accompany our most private thoughts.”
Tretheway has also drawn upon her own family history for her poetry, including the union of her parents – her mother was black and her father was white – that was in the mid-1960s still a crime in her native Mississippi.
Her mother, part of the inspiration for “Native Guard,” was murdered in 1985 by an abusive second husband, whom she had divorced. Her father, also a poet, is a professor of literature at Hollins University.
Trethewey, who also is serving as poet laureate of Mississippi, will reside in the Washington, D.C., area from January through May.
Poet laureates, who are selected for a one-year term by the librarian of Congress, have few specific duties but in recent years have initiated projects to broaden the audience for poetry.