- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 6, 2012

WASHINGTON (AP) - A 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.

Natasha Trethewey, 46, an English and creative writing professor at Emory University in Atlanta, will be named the 19th poet laureate Thursday. 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 poetry book, “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 CongressJames 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.

“She’s taking us into history that was never written,” he told The Associated Press. “She takes the greatest human tragedy in American history _ the Civil War, 650,000 people killed, the most destructive war of human life for a century _ and she takes us inside without preaching.”

It’s a “happy coincidence,” he said, that Trethewey was chosen during the 150th anniversary of the war between the states.

Trethewey will be the first poet laureate to take up residence in Washington in January 2013 and work directly in the library’s Poetry Room since the position was created in federal law. Her term, beginning in September, also coincides with the 75th anniversary of the poetry center and a poet-consultant position at the world’s largest library.

The poet historian will be among the youngest laureates and said she hopes to promote national activity around the writings and engage with the library and people who visit it in the nation’s capital. She has a personal connection to its vast holdings after researching her Civil War poetry in the library’s records.

Her early start in writing poems, though, began with a personal tragedy.

As a college freshman, her mother was killed by a stepfather that 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 AP. “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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