New Laureate Is More than the Sum of Her Parts
Enter Natasha Trethewey, the United States’ next poet laureate. Tretheway, the multiracial African-American daughter of an interracial couple, is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of three collections and a professor of creative writing at Emory University in Atlanta. She is first Southerner to hold the post since Robert Penn Warren, the original laureate, and the first African-American since Rita Dove in 1993.
But Tretheway is much more than the sum of her parts. As the product of a union that was still a crime in Mississippi when her parents married, and of a nation still bearing the scars of its broken union, she is the voice of a history that has been largely unwritten. Take her brilliant poem, “Miscegenation” from the Native Guard collection:
they went to Ohio to marry, returned to Mississippi.
begins with a sound like sin, the sound of wrong - mis in Mississippi.
as slaves, the train slicing the white glaze of winter, leaving Mississippi.
for the day he was left at the orphanage, his race unknown in Mississippi.
I was born near Easter, 1966, in Mississippi.
age he was when he died. It was spring, the hills green in Mississippi.
though I’m not; it means Christmas child, even in Mississippi.
For Trethewey, love and identity know no bounds. Perhaps this is why she expresses them so boundlessly through her poetry. In Trethewey’s work we get a glimpse into the humanity, history, and society we all share if we are brave enough to hear them out. And, with Trethewey as our next poet laureate, that is exactly what we should be proud to do.
Trethewey's next collection of poems, Thrall, will be published this year. It explores her relationship with her father and her interracial familial memories, along with poems about art and the history of knowledge from the Enlightenment.