U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey smiles during a city wide celebration in Decatur on Thursday, June 7, 2012. CURTIS COMPTON / CCOMPTON@AJC.COM

Natasha Trethewey, former U.S. Poet Laureate, leaving Emory University

Former U.S. Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Natasha Trethewey is leaving Emory University after 15 years to take a post at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.

In an announcement released Thursday by Northwestern, Trethewey will join the English Department at the beginning of the 2017-2018 academic year. In the statement, Trethewey said the decision was the right one at this point in her career. She has been the Robert W. Woodruff Professor of English and Creative Writing at Emory for several years. In 2012 she was selected as the 19th Poet Laureate and was asked to serve a second term in 2014.

“(A)t Northwestern, the opportunities for meaningful, exciting and important new work in teaching and research are boundless,” Trethewey said.

Trethewey’s loss is a huge blow to Emory and Georgia’s literary community. Trethewey’s elegiac work explores many themes, including erasure, loss and the American South. Her 2007 work “Native Guard” won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. That work gave voice to a long forgotten regiment of African American Union Army soldiers during the Civil War. She juxtaposed those verses with remembrances of her early childhood in Mississippi and plumed a topic she has returned to again and again in her work; the loss of her mother who was murdered while Trethewey was a student at the University of Georgia.

The Alliance Theatre turned “Native Guard” into a well-received play two years ago. On opening night Trethewey was jubilant. Another of Trethewey’s volume’s “Bellocq’s Ophelia” was the inspiration for an opera of the same name. Trethewey, 50, grew up in Atlanta and DeKalb County from the mid 1970s. She attended Atlanta public schools.

The keynote speaker at the 2012 AJC/Decatur Book Festival, Trethewey was a regular headliner at the event, always drawing standing room only crowds at her readings. She was nurtured early on in her career by her poet-father, the late Eric Trethewey and former U.S. Poet Laureate Rita Dove. And along with Spelman Professor Sharan Strange and departing Emory Professor Kevin Young, Trethewey was a member of the influential late 1980s-early 1990s poetry ensemble called “The Dark Room Collective,” in Cambridge, Mass. Young, who was an early finalist for the 2016 National Book Award, is leaving Emory next year to helm the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York.

In a 2012 interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Trethewey said of her poetry, “I have some historical questions and I’m grappling with ways to make sense of history; why it still haunts us in our most intimate relationships with each other, but also in our political decisions.”

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