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  • March 2019
    M T W T F S S
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POW: Natasha Trethewey is poet laureate!

Image credit: Associated Press

What’s the Poet Laureate?

“The Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress serves as the nation’s official lightning rod for the poetic impulse of Americans. During his or her term, the Poet Laureate seeks to raise the national consciousness to a greater appreciation of the reading and writing of poetry.” – loc.gov

How much does he or she make per year?


What does the position entail?

Each Poet Laureate makes the position their own, according to their particular interests–as long as they’re promoting poetry, it’s cool.

What other people have had the position?

See the list here.

What’s good to know about Natasha Trethewey?

She’s one of the younger people to be appointed Laureate. She grew up in Mississippi in a bi-racial family and much of that experience, along with a fascination with history, informs her poetry.  Her New York Times profile notes that she 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. ”  Check out “Flounder” at the Poetry Foundation site to get a taste of what she writes. On the surface, it’s the story of a girl fishing with her grandmother, and just below the surface, a reflection on one family’s attitudes to daily navigation between the worlds of black and white.  It’s filled with vivid images and a rhyme scheme that sneaks up on you:

“Aunt Sugar rolled her nylons down

around each bony ankle,
and I rolled down my white knee socks
letting my thin legs dangle,
circling them just above water
and silver backs of minnows
flitting here then there between
the sun spots and the shadows.”

flounder photo by TenSafeFrogs on flickr

Where can I read more about Natasha Trethewey?

The Library of Congress has an online web guide here, with a very complete bibliography.

And our own library system has books for you to check out:

Bellocq’s Ophelia

Domestic Work

Native Guard

Is there a Pennsylvania Poet Laureate?

There was–from 1993-2003, Samuel Hazo was the Poet Laureate of Pennsylvania, until he was told that Pennsylvania did not need that position anymore.

Which means you could crown yourself Pennsylvania’s Poet Laureate today!  Or compete in the Young Steel Poetry Slam for similar glory.

-Tessa, CLP – East Liberty

Fresh Resources for Black History Month

Although I don’t have direct access to the lesson plans of middle- and high-school teachers in Pittsburgh, every February brings students into the library looking for information on African-American history–especially biographical information on famous historical figures.  If you, too, have some research to do in this area, let me suggest some online options to supplement our books and encyclopedias:

The Library of Congress on Flickr

Here we have Cab Calloway, famous Jazz Musician. His photo is part of the Gottleib Jazz Photos set that the LOC has generously uploaded to Flickr.  Most everything (as far as I can tell) from their photostream has no known copyright restrictions, which means you can download the photos and use them in any reports or presentations you might need to do.

Or go over to the photostream of the U.S. National Archives and take a look around.

Interested in World War II and African-American history?  Here’s a photo of an all-black Air Force fighter squadron:

What does the 13th Amendment look like? Here it is:

It says that “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

African American Experience

This database will provide you with information for your history research project when the books you need have been checked out (or even if they haven’t).  And you can access it from the comfort of your own home, if you have a home computer.

It is organized by “Era”, starting in the year 500, and going up to the present day.  There’s A LOT of information there, including photos. Dive in. (You can click the words “African American Experience” above to go to where it is on the CLP website).

American Song



Maybe you need some music to make history come alive. In that case, explore American Song, a streaming-music database.  You can listen to some Cab Calloway tunes, or listen to Leadbelly, or Tampa Red accompany Ma Rainey, or All That:

And much more, including liner notes and the ability to send songs to your cell phone.

Library of Congress: American Memory Project

This is where you can hear African-American slaves talk about their lives, read Frederick Douglass’s personal papers, or read a history of breaking the color line in baseball (featuring Jackie Robinson).

There’s lots to explore–that’s what the other 11 months of the year are also for. Don’t stop at February 28th! And if you need help searching, don’t hesitate to ask a librarian.


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