This summer she became my new hero and it has nothing to do with her outward beauty. In June, Natasha Trethewey was appointed our 19th U.S. Poet Laureate (meaning she now serves as our nation’s official poet and will receive a $35,000 annual stipend during her term). What I find to be so inspiring is that she is our first African-American poet laureate since Rita Dove (who held the title in 1993) and the first Southern writer, a native of Gulfport, Mississippi, since Robert Penn Warren (who held the title in 1986).
And there’s more to her remarkable story. She was born in April 1966 to a Canadian father and a black mother, both of whom married illegally during that time. When Trethewey was just 19 years old, years after her parents divorced, her mother was murdered by her second husband. That moment has marked her even since, and is the reason she turned to “poetry to make sense of what had happened.” Much of her work is inspired by her mother, her parents’ relationship, and the “racial legacy of America.”
She is currently a professor of English and Creative Writing at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. She earned her A.D. in English from the University of Georgia, an M.A. in English and Creative Writing from Hollins University, and later in 1995 she earned her M.F.A. in poetry from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She has also received honorary degrees from Delta State University in Mississippi. And just to brag about her even more: She won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 2007 and was named the Poet Laureate of Mississippi this year in 2012.
I encourage you to purchase her work and read her poetry–not only are her poems refreshing in their language, but hauntingly beautiful in all the truth they reveal about our own humanity. As of January 2013, she will be the first poet laureate to take up residence in Washington D.C.. While there, she will work directly in the Library’s Poetry and Literature Center. Her next collection of poems entitled Thrall, which explores Trethewey’s relationship with her father and other family memories, is available now.