Emory gets Poet Laureate Trethewey’s papers

Emory University has acquired the archive of former U.S. Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Natasha Trethewey, the university announced Tuesday.

Trethewey, who is also a professor of English and creative writing at Emory, joins Salman Rushdie, Alice Walker, former U.S. Poet Laureate James Dickey and Seamus Heaney as major writers who have placed their archives at the university.

The collection of her work, which includes drafts of her books and poems, notes, emails, photographs and letters, is now open to researchers. A significant portion of the poet’s personal correspondence, however, including family letters and financial documents, will remain sealed and unavailable for viewing until after the author’s death and those of her immediate family.

“It’s hard, in a lot of ways, to watch all of this go out of the door,” Trethewey, 48, said in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “But many of (former U.S. Poet Laureate) Rita Dove’s papers burned in a fire years ago at her home, so it does seem like a reason for mine to be someplace safer than my home office.”

The 35 boxes of material span 70 years. They document the segregated world in which Trethewey’s parents met; her childhood in a coastal Mississippi town struggling through the birth of legal integration; and Trethewey’s quest, as a biracial woman, to define herself in a nation wrestling with race. All of it has been grist for some of the poet’s most compelling pieces, from her 2000 book, “Domestic Work,” to her Pulitzer Prize-winning volume, “Native Guard,” in 2006.

“Natasha Trethewey is among the nation’s foremost contemporary voices in poetry,” Rosemary Magee, director of Emory’s Manuscript, Archives and Rare Book Library, said in a statement. “We are so pleased and proud that she has chosen to make Emory the permanent home for her literary archive.”

Earlier this year, Trethewey completed her second consecutive term as national poet laureate and capped a PBS series, “Where Poetry Lives,” which was part of the “PBS NewsHour.” In that series Trethewey traveled the nation with correspondent Jeffrey Brown to show how Americans of all walks used poetry in their everyday lives. She resumes teaching at Emory this fall. A University of Georgia graduate, Trethewey is also the poet laureate of her home state of Mississippi, a post she’ll hold through 2016.

The collection includes material up to 2013, including her handwritten notes on paper, which is how she begins most poems. She has never felt comfortable starting a new piece on a computer. Yet, during her tenure as national laureate, Trethewey found it difficult to create new work, even though her position was one that involved the promotion of poetry in daily life.

“But I’m getting back to my writing now,” she said Tuesday.

In future years, that work and the documents that show how she created it may join her other work in the Emory archive.