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Trethewey named to the Academy of American Poets

Natasha Trethewey was named the 19th U.S. Poet Laureate.

The Academy of American Poets has named Northwestern University professor Natasha Trethewey one of two new chancellors, an honorary position that has been held by some of the most distinguished poets in the United States.

Only 115 poets have been elected to this board since it was formed in 1946. Along with Joy Harjo, Trethewey joins a collection of great voices, including W. H. Auden, John AshberyElizabeth BishopLucille CliftonYusef KomunyakaaAdrienne Richand Mark Strand.

"We're honored to have Joy and Natasha as new chancellors of the Academy of American Poets,” said Jennifer Benka, Academy executive director. “Their participation, along with that of the other esteemed poets currently serving as chancellors, ensures that poets remain at the heart of all we publish, program and promote.”

New chancellors are elected by the members of the current Board of Chancellors and serve for a period of six years.

As members of the Board of Chancellors, Harjo and Trethewey will consult with the organization on matters of artistic programming, serve as judges for the organization’s largest prizes for poets and act as ambassadors of poetry in the world at large. 

A native of Gulfport, Mississippi, Trethewey joined the Northwestern faculty as the Board of Trustees Professor of English at the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences in the fall of 2017. 

Trethewey was named as both the state poet laureate of Mississippi and the 19th U. S. poet laureate by the Library of Congress. In 2013, she was appointed for a second term, during which she travelled to cities and towns across the country meeting with the general public to seek out the many ways poetry lives in American communities. She reported on her discoveries in a regular feature on the PBS News Hour Poetry Series. 

In 2013, she was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She received the Academy of American Poets Fellowship in 2015 and the Heinz Award for Arts and Humanities in 2017.

Her most recent collection is “Monument: Poems New and Selected,” which includes several unpublished works, as well as some of Trethewey’s most celebrated poems.  

Her first collection of poetry, “Domestic Work,” won the inaugural Cave Canem Poetry Prize for exceptional work by an African-American poet. The poems were inspired by her grandmother, who began work as a housekeeper in 1937 and later worked as an elevator operator, beautician, factory worker and seamstress.

Trethewey’s third volume, the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Native Guard: Poems,” juxtaposes her personal family history with the forgotten history of the Louisiana Native Guard, a black Civil War regiment. The poems pay homage to those who served and to the memories of her own life and childhood.

Academy Chancellor Elizabeth Alexander says Trethewey “is a national treasure who has represented the country as poet laureate with great distinction. Her meticulously wrought poems explore how personal and national history are constantly converging. She understands the time and place she was born into, as well as the history that moves us forward in fits and starts. Her poems are finely honed gems of tremendous beauty and haunting power. Her work gives full meaning to the word 'grace,' in all it makes elegant and ritual, and all it forgives."

The Academy of American Poets is the nation's leading champion of poets, poetry and the work of poetry organizations. The organization produces, the world’s largest publicly funded website for poets and poetry; National Poetry Month; the popular Poem-a-Dayseries; American Poets magazine; Teach This Poem and other award-winning resources for K-12 educators; and an annual series of poetry readings and special events. The Academy of American Poets also coordinates a national poetry coalition working together to promote the value poets bring to our culture and the important contribution poetry makes in the lives of people of all ages and backgrounds.