WASHINGTON -- A poet-historian representing a younger generation of writers will soon take office on Capitol Hill, overlooking the politicians, in a lesser-known post enshrined in federal law.
The Library of Congress named Natasha Trethewey yesterday its 19th U.S. poet laureate, with a mission to share the art of poetry with a wider audience. The English and creative writing professor at Emory University in Atlanta distinguished herself early, winning the Pulitzer Prize in 2007.
Trethewey, 46, will be the first poet in chief to take up residence in Washington to work at the library's Poetry Room for part of her term in 2013. As one of the youngest poet laureates ever, she brings fresh perspective to an office held recently by poets in their 80s.
Part of her work has focused on restoring history that has been erased or forgotten from the official record and the nation's shared memory. Her research in the library's Civil War archive informs some of her writings.
Trethewey won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for her collection of poems, "Native Guard." She wrote of the Louisiana Native Guard, a black regiment assigned to guard white Confederate soldiers on Ship Island, off Mississippi's Gulf Coast.
The Confederate prisoners were memorialized on the island later, 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."
James Billington, Librarian of Congress, who chose Trethewey after hearing her read at the National Book Festival in Washington, said her work explores many tragedies of the Civil War.
"She's taking us into history that was never written," he said. "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."