Our country has a new Poet Laureate, Natasha Trethewey, a talented, forty-six year old, bi-racial Emory University professor with deep roots in her native South. [Here] Ms. Trethewey gained national recognition when she received a Pulitzer Prize in 2007 for Native Guard, a collection of poems focused on one of the first black regiments formed in the Civil War. Woven into that poetic narrative are other personal themes, such as the murder of her mother, the illegal interracial marriage of her parents, and the pain of her childhood. [Here]
Trethewey’s parents were married before Loving v. Virginia banned all miscegenation laws.[Here] Their daughter Natasha was born a year before Loving became the law of the land. She was born in Gulfport, Mississippi on Confederate Memorial Day (April 26), a date which became a constant reminder to the young girl of the tragic themes of her native land.
While still a child, her parents divorced and her mother remarried a man who gradually became physically abusive. Natasha was nineteen and in college, when her mother was murdered by him. These early violent shocks would have been sufficient to freeze most young sensibilities but instead Trethewey found a healing response in her poetic voice.
Trethewey has published 3 poetry volumes: Domestic Work, published in 2000; Bellocq’s Ophelia, published in 2002; and Native Guard, published in 2006. She has also published a non-fiction book, Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, 2010.
Since the present selection system began in 1986, there have been 19 Poet Laureates, who were officially titled The Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library Of Congress.” The Librarian of the United States Congress decides each nomination. Of the 19 chosen since 1986, five (26 per cent) have been women: Mona Van Duyn (1992-3); Rita Dove (1993-5); Louise Glück (2003-4); Kay Ryan (2009-10); and now Natasha Trethewey. The previous laureate system, called Consultants in Poetry, was begun in 1937, ending in 1986. Of the 30 poets selected during those almost 50 years, only six were women: Louise Bogan (1945-6); Léonie Adams (1948-9); Mona Van Duyn (1992-3); Josephine Jacobsen (1971-3); Maxine Kumin (1981-2); and Gwendolyn Brooks (1985-6). [Here]
Perhaps we should be pleased that the percentage of women chosen for this literary honor is increasing; however, notable, distinguished and talented female poets--Marianne Moore, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Audre Lorde to name just a few--were never thus honored. Furthermore, the present percentage of 26% women to men who were chosen is far from what we must demand, viz. complete equality. If women do not demand equality of recognition, our work will never be equally honored.
As Bella reminded us years ago, parity must continue to be our beacon and our goal.