On Thursday the U.S. Library of Congress announced one of the freshest voices in contemporary poetry, Natasha Trethewey, as the 19th U.S. Poet Laureate. Tretheway hails from Mississippi (of which she is concurrently state poet laureate) and at 46 years old is one of the youngest to hold the position.
Trethewey is currently a professor of English and creative writing at Emory University in Atlanta. She is the second Southerner to hold the position besides Robert Penn Warren (who held the first position as laureate in 1986) and also the second African American since Rita Dove. Her journey to the office on Capitol Hill this fall will be eventful as Tretheway will be the first to take residence in the Poetry Room at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.
Her three collections combine the public with the private, speaking for the unspoken, and center mostly on memory. Her first book Domestic Work won the Cave Canem Prize and in 2007 she won a Pulitzer for her collection Native Guard, whose title refers to the regime of Louisiana Native guards that fought for the Union during the Civil War. Her poems are combination of forms, much like a stylistic mixtape, combining free verse with the more traditional forms such as sonnet and villanelle.
In 2010 she penned a memoir based on the devastation of the region called Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. In an article in The New York Times Tretheway recalls a moment of truth after the death of her mother.
“I turned to poetry to make sense of what happened and started writing what I knew even then were really bad poems. It took me nearly 20 years to find the right language, to write poems that were successful enough to explain my own feelings to me and that might also be meaningful to others.”
Her next collection, Thrall, will be published later this year.