The Library of Congress named Natasha Trethewey on Thursday to be its 19th U.S. poet laureate with a mission to share the art of poetry with a wider audience. The 46-year-old English and creative writing professor at Atlanta’s Emory University distinguished herself early, winning the Pulitzer Prize in 2007. Trethewey will be the first poet in chief to take up residence in Washington to work at the library’s Poetry Room for part of her term in 2013. As one of the youngest poet laureates ever selected, she also brings fresh perspective to an office more recently held by poets in their 80s. Trethewey won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for her collection of poems, “Native Guard.” She wrote of the Louisiana Native Guard, a black Civil War regiment assigned to guard white Confederate soldiers held on Ship Island off Mississippi’s Gulf Coast. She is the nation’s first poet laureate to hail from the South since the first federal poet — Robert Penn Warren — was named by the Library of Congress in 1986. She is also Mississippi’s top poet and will be the first person to serve simultaneously as a state and U.S. laureate. Her term begins in September when she will succeed Philip Levine. Past poet laureates have included W.S. Merwin, Kay Ryan, Stanley Kunitz, Robert Pinsky, Rita Dove and Warren — the Southern native who was an inspiration for Trethewey. Their agendas as the nation’s chief poets have included readings across the country, newspaper syndication of poems and poetry readings over high school public address systems. Trethewey said she hopes to promote national activity around poetry and to engage with the library and people who visit the nation’s capital. Her next collection of poems, “Thrall,” will be published this year.
Names in the news, June 8
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