Yesterday the Library of Congress announced the new U.S. Poet Laureate: Natasha Trethewey. Born in Mississippi, Trethewey is the first Southerner to be named poet laureate since the original laureate in 1986 and the second African-American woman to have received the honor. Some of her poetry has delicately but profoundly captured themes of the racial struggles that have existed since the Civil War.
Although she's lesser known than some of her predecessors, Trethewey is most recognized for having won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry and has a unique ability to write seamlessly in both traditional and free verse. And, while most of her published work is poetry, she's also shown herself to be a master of words in prose, as evidenced by her acclaimed 2010 book Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
But perhaps what she captures best of all is a grounded view of the purpose of art. Reflecting on the years following her mother's death, Trethewey powerfully describes how poetry isn't about just expressing oneself; it's about expressing oneself well: "It took me nearly twenty years to find the right language, to write poems that were successful enough to explain my own feelings to me and that might also be meaningful to others.”
(Photograph by Matt Valentine)