New Poet Laureate of the USA has Cornish heritage

The new U.S. poet laureate, Natasha Trethewey, is the  Pulitzer Prize-wining author of three collections and professor of creative writing at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.

Natasha was born to Eric Trethewey and Gwendolyn Ann Turnbough in Gulfport, Mississippi on 26 April 1966, Confederate Memorial Day. At the time of her birth, a year before the U.S. Supreme Court struck down anti-miscegenation laws, her parents were married illegally.  Her birth certificate noted the race of her as “colored”, and the race of her father as “Canadian”.

Eric Trethewey a Canadian of Cornish descent.  Her father is also a poet; he is a professor of English at Hollins University, Virginia.

Natasha is the first Southerner to hold the post since Robert Penn Warren, the original laureate, and the first African-American since Rita Dove in 1993.  Unlike the recent laureates W. S. Merwin and her immediate predecessor, Philip Levine, at 46 she is still in midcareer and not well-known outside poetry circles.

Her work combines free verse with more traditional forms like the sonnet and villanelle to explore memory and the racial legacy of America.

In explaining his choice, James Billington, the librarian of Congress said: “We’re not necessarily on some kick to find a younger poet.  The more I read of it, American Poetry seems extremely rich in diversity, talent and freedom of expression, and she has a voice that is already original and accomplished.  I have an affinity for American individuals who are absolutely unique, and I think that this is one.”

The recipient of a Mississippi Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts, Natasha was named the 2008 Georgia Woman of the Year.  She has been inducted into both the Fellowship of Southern Writers Hall and the Georgia Writers of Fame.

In 2012 she was named Poet Laureate of the state of Mississippi and the 19th Poet Laureate of the United States.

Awaiting Natasha Trethewey on her desk when she arrived at the Library of Congress to begin her new role as laureate was a copy of the Collected Poems of Charles Causley, an internationally famed Cornish poet.

The collection of poems was delivered by a Cornwall Council officer and inscribed by the Council to celebrate and recognize Natasha Trethewey.


Compiled by Tommi O’Hagan