WASHINGTON — Natasha Trethewey began writing poems after a personal tragedy.
While Trethewey was a college freshman, her mother was killed by a stepfather Tretheway had long feared.
“I started writing poems as a response to that great loss, much the way that people responded, for example, after 9/11,” she told The Associated Press. “People who never had written poems or turned much to poetry turned to it at that moment because it seems like the only thing that can speak the unspeakable.”
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Trethewey, 46, an English and creative writing professor at Emory University in Atlanta, will be named the 19th U.S. poet laureate Thursday.
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The Pulitzer Prize winner is the nation’s first poet laureate to hail from the South since the initial one — Robert Penn Warren — was named by the Library of Congress in 1986. She is also Mississippi’s top poet and will be the first person to serve simultaneously as a state and U.S. laureate.
Trethewey won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for her book of poems, “Native Guard.” They focused partly on history that was erased because it was never recorded. She wrote of the Louisiana Native Guard, a black Civil War regiment assigned to guard white Confederate soldiers held on Ship Island off Mississippi’s Gulf Coast.
The Confederate prisoners were later memorialized on the island, but not the black Union soldiers.
A stanza reads:
“Some names shall deck the page of history
“as it is written on stone. Some will not.”
Librarian of Congress James Billington, who chose Trethewey after hearing her read at the National Book Festival in Washington, said her work explores forgotten history and the many human tragedies of the Civil War.