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Arts Commission Headlines

Mississippi has new poet laureate

Jackson, Miss – Governor Haley Barbour appointed Natasha Trethewey as Mississippi’s Poet Laureate.  She will be responsible for promoting the literary arts in Mississippi through readings of her work at meetings, seminars, and conferences across the state.

Trethewey currently holds the position of Charles Howard Candler Professor of English and Creative Writing at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.  A native of Gulfport with a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Massachusetts, “She has received national and international acclaim for her poetry that is, often, a tribute to the state of Mississippi and, more specifically, the Mississippi Gulf Coast,” said Governor Barbour.

When notified of her selection, Trethewey stated, “It's an honor to have been named Poet Laureate of my native state--the place that made me a writer--and I am delighted to serve the citizens of Mississippi by promoting our rich and ongoing cultural and literary traditions."

Trethewey received the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for her book of poetry, Native Guard, which honors African American soldiers who were stationed near Gulfport during the Civil War.  Her other awards include the 1999 Cave Canem poetry prize, the 2001 Lillian Smith Award for Poetry, and the 2001 and 2003 Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Book Prizes.  The American Library Association listed her second collection of poetry, Bellocq’s Ophelia, as a 2003 Notable Book.  In 2008, Trethewey was presented with a Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts by the Mississippi Arts Commission for Literary Excellence. 

The recipient of several fellowships including the National Endowment for the Arts and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University, Trethewey recently served as the James Weldon Johnson Fellow in African American Studies at the Beinecke Library at Yale University.

In her poem titled “Liturgy,” from Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Trethewey writes:  “This is a memory of the Coast: to each his own/recollections, her reclamations, their/restorations, the return of the Coast.”  She concludes:  “This is my nostos—my pilgrimage to the Coast, my memory, my reckoning--/ native daughter:  I am the Gulf Coast.”

The Mississippi Poet Laureate program honors outstanding Mississippi writers and promotes the state’s literary arts.  Malcolm White, Executive Director of the Mississippi Arts Commission stated, “Natasha’s amazing body of work has already done so much to promote the literary arts in Mississippi.  Her obvious love of this state along with her passion for the written word indeed makes her the ideal candidate for this appointment.”

Governor Barbour also stated, “Marsha and I celebrate Natasha’s work and are proud to call her a fellow Mississippian, an ambassador for our state, and our new Poet Laureate.”

The Governor appoints the Poet Laureate for a four-year term.  The previous Mississippi Poet Laureate was Winifred Hamrick Farrar from Meridian.  The first laureate was appointed by Governor Ross Barnett in 1963.

The selection committee panel included representatives from state agencies, institutions recommended by Governor Haley Barbour, and a published writer.  The members of the panel chaired by the Mississippi Arts Commission, were Barbara Carpenter, Mississippi Humanities Council; Tracy Carr Seabold, Mississippi Library Commission; Katie Blount, MS Department of Archives & History; Steve Yates, University Press of Mississippi; Jean Chamberlain, Jackson State University; and Jon Peede, University of Virginia.  The panel recommended the names of the three finalists from which the Governor made his selection.

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