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June 7, 2012

Librarian of Congress Appoints Natasha Trethewey Poet Laureate

Librarian of Congress James H. Billington today announced the appointment of Natasha Trethewey as the Library’s Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry for 2012-2013.

Trethewey, the 19th Poet Laureate, will take up her duties in the fall, opening the Library’s annual literary season with a reading of her work on Thursday, September 13 in the Coolidge Auditorium. Her term will coincide with the 75th anniversary of the Library’s Poetry and Literature Center and the 1937 establishment of the Consultant-in-Poetry position, which was changed by a federal law in 1986 to Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry.

"Natasha Trethewey is an outstanding poet/historian in the mold of Robert Penn Warren, our first Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry," Billington said. "Her poems dig beneath the surface of history—personal or communal, from childhood or from a century ago—to explore the human struggles that we all face."

Trethewey succeeds Philip Levine as Poet Laureate and joins a long line of distinguished poets who have served in the position including W. S. Merwin, Kay Ryan, Charles Simic, Donald Hall, Ted Kooser, Louise Glück, Billy Collins, Stanley Kunitz, Robert Pinsky, Robert Hass, and Rita Dove.

She is the author of three poetry collections, including "Native Guard," (2006), winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry; "Bellocq’s Ophelia" (2002); and "Domestic Work" (2000). Her newest collection of poems, "Thrall," is forthcoming from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2012. Trethewey is the author of a nonfiction book, "Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast" (2010).

In 2001, Trethewey researched "Native Guard" in the Library’s Manuscript Division and later spent time writing the book in the Library’s Main Reading Room. She has also been featured in two Library of Congress National Book Festivals, in 2004 and 2010. Billington said of her readings, "I heard in her voice a classical quality that can speak to the widest possible audience."

An English and creative writing professor at Emory University in Atlanta, Trethewey will reside in the Washington, D.C., area from January through May of 2013 and work in the Poets Room of the Poetry and Literature Center, the first time the Poet Laureate has done so since the inception of the position in 1986.

Robert Casper, head of the Poetry and Literature Center at the Library of Congress, said, "I am thrilled our next Poet Laureate will spend the second half of her term in the Library’s ‘Catbird Seat.’ There she will impact the capital and the country even more powerfully, as one of our great poets of reclamation and reckoning."

Trethewey also is serving as Poet Laureate of Mississippi. She was named to the position in January for a four-year term and will continue in the position while serving as U.S. Poet Laureate.

For the introduction of Trethewey’s first collection, selected for the inaugural Cave Canem Poetry Prize, Rita Dove said, "Trethewey eschews the Polaroid instant, choosing to render the unsuspecting yearnings and tremulous hopes that accompany our most private thoughts—reclaiming for us that interior life where the true self flourishes and to which we return, in solitary reverie, for strength."

Trethewey’s other honors include fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Study Center, and the Bunting Fellowship Program of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard. She has also received the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Book Prize and the Lillian Smith Award for Poetry.

Born in Gulfport, Miss., in 1966, Trethewey earned a B.A. in English from the University of Georgia, an M.A. in poetry from Hollins University, and an M.F.A. from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. From 2005-2006, she was appointed the Lehman Brady Joint Chair Professor of Documentary and American Studies at Duke University and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and from 2009-2010, she was the James Weldon Johnson Fellow in African American Studies at the Beinecke Library at Yale University. At Emory University, Trethewey is the Charles Howard Candler Professor of English and Creative Writing.

For more information on Trethewey, including downloadable photos and video, accredited media representatives are invited to visit (New visitors to the site will need to establish an account to receive the user name and password.)

Background of the Laureateship

The Poet Laureate is selected for a one-year term by the Librarian of Congress. The choice is based on poetic merit alone and has included a wide variety of poetic styles.

The Library keeps to a minimum the specific duties required of the Poet Laureate, who opens the literary season in September and closes it in April. Laureates, in recent years, have initiated poetry projects that broaden the audiences for poetry.

Kay Ryan launched "Poetry for the Mind’s Joy" in 2009-2010, a project that focused on the poetry being written by community college students. The project included visits to various community colleges and a poetry contest on the campuses. For more information, visit

Earlier, Rita Dove brought a program of poetry and jazz to the Library’s literary series, along with a reading by young Crow Indian poets and a two-day conference titled "Oil on the Waters: The Black Diaspora," featuring panel discussions, readings, and music. Robert Hass sponsored a major conference on nature writing called "Watershed," which continues today as a national poetry competition for elementary through high-school students, titled "River of Words." Robert Pinsky initiated his Favorite Poem Project, which energized a nation of poetry readers to share their favorite poems in readings across the country and in audio and video recordings. Billy Collins instituted the website Poetry180, which brought a poem a day into every high-school classroom in all parts of the country via the central announcement system.

More recently, Ted Kooser created a free weekly newspaper column, at (external link), that features a brief poem by a contemporary American poet and an introduction to the poem by Kooser. Donald Hall participated in the first-ever joint poetry readings of the U. S. Poet Laureate and British Poet Laureate Andrew Motion in a program called "Poetry Across the Atlantic," also sponsored by the Poetry Foundation. Charles Simic provided tips on writing at and taught a master class for accomplished poets at the Library of Congress.

The Library of Congress’ Poetry and Literature Center is the home of the Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry, a position that has existed since 1936, when Archer M. Huntington endowed the Chair of Poetry at the Library. Since then, many of the nation’s most eminent poets have served as Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress and, after the passage of Public Law 99-194 (Dec. 20, 1985), as Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry. The Poet Laureate suggests authors to read in the literary series and plans other special events during the literary season.

Consultants in Poetry and Poets Laureate Consultants in Poetry and their terms of service are listed below.

  • Joseph Auslander, 1937-1941
  • Allen Tate, 1943-1944
  • Robert Penn Warren, 1944-1945
  • Louise Bogan, 1945-1946
  • Karl Shapiro, 1946-1947
  • Robert Lowell, 1947-1948
  • Leonie Adams, 1948-1949
  • Elizabeth Bishop, 1949-1950
  • Conrad Aiken, 1950-1952, the first to serve two terms
  • William Carlos Williams, appointed in 1952 but did not serve
  • Randall Jarrell, 1956-1958
  • Robert Frost, 1958-1959
  • Richard Eberhart, 1959-1961
  • Louis Untermeyer, 1961-1963
  • Howard Nemerov, 1963-1964
  • Reed Whittemore, 1964-1965
  • Stephen Spender, 1965-1966
  • James Dickey, 1966-1968
  • William Jay Smith, 1968-1970
  • William Stafford, 1970-1971
  • Josephine Jacobsen, 1971-1973
  • Daniel Hoffman, 1973-1974
  • Stanley Kunitz, 1974-1976
  • Robert Hayden, 1976-1978
  • William Meredith, 1978-1980
  • Maxine Kumin, 1981-1982
  • Anthony Hecht, 1982-1984
  • Robert Fitzgerald, 1984-1985
  • Reed Whittemore, 1984-1985, Interim Consultant in Poetry
  • Gwendolyn Brooks, 1985-1986
  • Robert Penn Warren, 1986-1987, first to be Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry
  • Richard Wilbur, 1987-1988
  • Howard Nemerov, 1988-1990
  • Mark Strand, 1990-1991
  • Joseph Brodsky, 1991-1992
  • Mona Van Duyn, 1992-1993
  • Rita Dove, 1993-1995
  • Robert Hass, 1995-1997
  • Robert Pinsky, 1997-2000
  • Stanley Kunitz, 2000-2001
  • Billy Collins, 2001-2003
  • Louise Glück, 2003-2004
  • Ted Kooser, 2004-2006
  • Donald Hall, 2006-2007
  • Charles Simic, 2007-2008
  • Kay Ryan, 2008-2010
  • W.S. Merwin, 2010-2011
  • Philip Levine, 2011-2012

Founded in 1800, the Library of Congress is the nation’s oldest federal cultural institution. It seeks to spark imagination and creativity and to further human understanding and wisdom by providing access to knowledge through its magnificent collections, programs, and exhibitions. Many of the Library’s rich resources can be accessed through its website at

More information on the Poet Laureate and the Poetry and Literature Center can be found at

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PR 12-114
ISSN 0731-3527

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