Yesterday was a very important day for the Poetry and Literature Center—the Library announced the selection of a new Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry, Natasha Trethewey. Our previous laureate, Philip Levine, served in the position magnanimously and with a great sense of openness. The power of his term will continue to resonate inside and outside the Library’s walls for years to come, and I will miss him greatly.
But now with the announcement, I look forward to the fall and Natasha’s official arrival. I have known her for many years—we overlapped as graduate students at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst—and I have always been struck by the strength of her devotion to poetry. I also admire the ambition of her work: to contend with history in both the most public and private sense and give voice to stories that would otherwise be marginalized or forgotten.
There are two exciting firsts to Natasha’s laureateship. She will be the first state Poet Laureate to serve simultaneously as the Library’s laureate. In the past couple of decades many states and cities have named poets laureate (you can find out more about state poets laureate here), and it is wonderful that Natasha’s appointment can highlight this national commitment to poetry.
The other first is equally exciting: in the spring Natasha will be the first Poet Laureate to take up residency in the Poetry and Literature Center. Before the congressional act that created the laureateship, the Library’s Consultants in Poetry routinely lived in the District and worked in our office. Our last Consultant, Gwendolyn Brooks, is still remembered for her connection to the DC community.
In the past 26 years, 18 laureates have contributed to the position, to the Library, and to the country. Many have launched nationwide projects during their appointment—projects that have expanded and deepened the reach of poetry. The Center will celebrate these projects during its 75th anniversary year, starting this October, and it will be thrilling to have Natasha here to help us do it. I am eager to see how her residency will create new opportunities to champion the art.