UMass Amherst Alumna Natasha Trethewey Begins Term as U.S. Poet Laureate

September 10, 2012

Contact: Daniel J. Fitzgibbons 413/545-0444

AMHERST, Mass. – Natasha Trethewey, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and 1995 graduate of the MFA Program for Poets and Writers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, begins her duties this week as the 19th poet laureate of the United States.
 
Trethewey will open the annual literary season at the Library of Congress with a reading of her works. Her term will coincide with the 75th anniversary of the library’s Poetry and Literature Center and the 1937 establishment of the consultant-in-poetry position, which was changed by a federal law in 1986 to poet laureate consultant in poetry.
 
Trethewey will reside in the Washington, D.C., area from January through May of 2013 and work in the Poets Room of the Poetry and Literature Center, the first time the poet laureate has done so since the inception of the position in 1986.
 
“Natasha Trethewey is an outstanding poet/historian in the mold of Robert Penn Warren, our first poet laureate consultant in poetry,” said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington. “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, 46, is the Charles Howard Candler Professor of English and Creative Writing and incoming director of the creative writing program at Emory University in Atlanta. She was born in Gulfport, Miss., and is the author of three poetry collections, including “Native Guard (winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in poetry),” her collection about black Civil War soldiers who helped protect a fort on Ship Island, a few miles off the Mississippi coast. She is currently also serving a four-year term as the poet laureate of Mississippi.
           
Trethewey’s first poetry collection, “Domestic Work” (Graywolf Press, 2000), won the inaugural 1999 Cave Canem poetry prize, a 2001 Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Book Prize and the 2001 Lillian Smith Award for Poetry.
 
Her second collection, “Bellocq’s Ophelia” (Graywolf, 2002), received the 2003 Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Book Prize, was a finalist for both the Academy of American Poets’ James Laughlin and Lenore Marshall prizes, and was named a 2003 Notable Book by the American Library Association.
                       
Her newest collection of poems, “Thrall,” will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt this year. She is the author of a nonfiction book, “Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast” (2010).
Trethewey has a B.A. in English from the University of Georgia and an M.A. in English and creative writing from Hollins University.
 
She has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, Bunting Fellowship Program of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University and the National Endowment for the Arts.
 
For more information, go to www.loc.gov/poetry/laureate.html