Emory professor named U.S. poet laureate

Pulitzer Prize winning poet and Emory professor Natasha Trethewey has been named the U.S. Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry for 2012-13 by the Library of Congress.

In an announcement to be released Thursday, Librarian of Congress James H. Billington praised Trethewey as a poet and historian whose 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, a Mississippi native, won the Pulitzer for poetry in 2007 for her work, “Native Guard. The position of poet laureate is largely ceremonial, but is intended to champion the art form of poetry and to emphasize the importance of its role in the everyday lives of Americans.

Typically the poet laureate establishes a program to promote the writing, reading and performance of poetry, such as the Poetry 180 program, established by Billy Collins during his tenure in the post, that was aimed largely at school children. Trethewey is the third woman of African American descent to be named the nation's top poet, joining Rita Dove and the late Gwendolyn Brooks.

A humbled Trethewey said she had known about the appointment for the past few weeks but had been sworn to secrecy by Library of Congress officials.

“I thought I was going to burst,” Trethewey said. “I couldn’t tell my father or my brother, no one in my family.”

Reached by phone Wednesday afternoon, she was at her Decatur home officially celebrating the news with her husband, father and brother, by sharing a bottle of champagne with them on her back porch.

“You know, when you win the Pulitzer, people tell you that you now know what the first line of your obituary will be,” Trethewey said. “When I met with the people at the library of Congress a few weeks ago, they told me now you know the line that will replace that Pulitzer line.”

A graduate of the University of Georgia, where she received her B.A. in English, Trethewey a is currently the Charles Howard Candler Professor of English and Creative Writing at Emory.  Earlier this year she was also named Poet Laureate of Mississippi.