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New US poet laureate announced as Natasha Trethewey

Natasha Trethewey
Image caption Trethewey's first poetry collection - Domestic Work - was released in 2000

The 19th US poet laureate has been named as Natasha Trethewey.

The 46-year-old is one of the youngest laureates to take on the role, taking over from Philip Levine.

Trethewey, who currently works as an English and creative writing professor at Emory University in Atlanta, will begin her term in September.

As the poet laureate, her duties will include writing poems for national newspaper publication and performing poetry readings across the country.

Trethewey is considered Mississippi's top poet and will become the first person to serve as state and US laureate at the same time.

Many of her poems explore forgotten history and the human tragedies of the Civil War.

Librarian of Congress James Billington said he chose Trethewey for the role after hearing her read at the National Book Festival in 2004.

"She's taking us into history that was never written," he said.

"She takes the greatest human tragedy in American history - the Civil War, 650,000 people killed, the most destructive war of human life for a century - and she takes us inside without preaching."

In January 2013 Trethewey will become the first US laureate to reside in Washington and will work directly in the library's Poetry Room.

Her appointment coincides with the 75th anniversary of the poetry centre at the world's largest library.

Speak the unspeakable

Trethewey began writing poetry in college after a family tragedy. Her mother was murdered at the age of 40 by her abusive stepfather, who she had always feared.

"I started writing poems as a response to that great loss, much the way that people responded, for example, after 9/11," she told Associated Press.

"People who never had written poems or turned much to poetry turned to it at that moment because it seems like the only thing that can speak the unspeakable."

In 2007, Trethewey won the Pulitzer Prize for The Native Guard - a collection of poems partly based on the Civil War.

The title was a reference to a black regiment assigned to guard white Confederate soldiers who were being held on Ship Island off Mississippi's Gulf Coast.

The Confederate prisoners were later memorialised on the island, but not the black Union soldiers.