Natasha Trethewey, the U.S. poet laureate who has written elegantly about the brutality and grace that has shaped Southern life as well as her own, has been appointed to a second term as the nation’s top poet.
In a statement released Monday, Librarian of Congress James H. Billington called Trethewey’s appointment a “resounding success” and said she was expected to build on it in the coming year.
Trethewey was first appointed to the position a year ago last summer and assumed her duties in September. Poet laureates are strongly encouraged to come up with a signature program aimed at getting Americans to incorporate poetry into their daily lives.
For the first year, Trethewey kept a somewhat lower national profile, keeping regular hours in the Library of Congress’ Poetry Room in Washington, where she met with the public and hosted readings. Trethewey, 47, is also working on a memoir. The Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, who lives in Decatur, is also the director of the creative writing program at Emory University.
This is not the first time a laureate has served two terms. Most recently, Billy Collins and Ted Kooser had multiyear appointments. Unique among laureates, Trethewey is simultaneously serving as a state poet laureate, a four-year term which began last year as laureate for her native Mississippi.
For her second term as the 19th poet laureate, Trethewey will partner with the PBS “NewsHour” Poetry Series for a series of reports from across the nation that examine social issues from domestic violence to the after-effects of natural disasters. Those reports will look at those issues through poetry.
Each of the issues in some way represents touchstones in Trethewey’s life: watching her hometown of Gulfport, Miss., try to rebuild itself after Hurricane Katrina; caring for her aging grandmother; attending public schools; healing after her mother’s killing.
She has often said, however, that poetry is not simply a way to explore what has happened to her personally, but that it is also a tool in the fight for social justice. That is why some of her visits in the PBS series will explore difficult issues such as incarceration rates of young black men. Trethewey’s younger brother served time in prison for a drug offense, which she documented in her 2010 nonfiction book “Beyond Katrina.”
While on the road Trethewey will also meet with residents of the towns and cities she visits to push the cause of poetry.
“We could not be more thrilled with her plans for the coming year,” Billington said in the statement.