Mississippi Humanities Council Executive Director Dr. Barbara Carpenter was among the panelists who recommended finalists for the Mississippi Poet Laureate. Gov. Barbour selected Trethewey in the final days before his term ended.
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 Gov. 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. 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 John Peede, University of Virginia. The panel recommended the names of the three finalists from which the Governor made his selection.