Natasha Trethewey Named 19th U.S. Poet Laureate

Written by: Rikki Lux

Natasha Trethewey speaks of her honored appointment as U.S. Poet Laureate

U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey recalls her young years in Mississippi.


“They crossed the river into Cincinnati, a city whose name

begins with a sound like sin, the sound of wrong – mis in Mississippi.”

So begins “Miscegenation,” a poem by freshly appointed U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey.  The subject of the poem is her parents’ 1965 quest to marry outside of their home state of Mississippi because their interracial union was illegal.  Born of a black mother and white father, Trethewey has utilized her own history to write her Pultizer Prize winning poetry.

When Trethewey, 46-year-old English professor at Atlanta’s Emory University and poet-historian, received the happy news earlier this week, she stated, “I’m still a little in disbelief.”

Others were more expectant of her appointment as 19th U.S. Poet Laureate. “The appointment of Natasha Trethewey is a very welcome event,” said Dana Gioia, former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts and a long-time Trethewey fan. “She writes out of the complicated history of the region, and even from her own complicated history.”

Trethewey’s interpretation of history is what has gained her notoriety.  Her 2007 Pulitzer Prize winning collection of poems “Native Guard” is about an all black Civil War regiment that guarded imprisoned white Confederate soldiers. In “Native Guard” she comments on the memorialization of the white soldiers, but not the black:

“Some names shall deck the page of history

as it is written on stone. Some will not.”

“Native Guard” follows the tragedies of the Civil War, especially the ones we have never read about. “She’s taking us into history that was never written,” said Librarian of Congress James Billington, the man who first became aware of Trethewey after he heard her read at the 2004 National Book Festival in Washington.  Her work, in the form of sonnets and free verse, interprets history and transforms memory.  Of her prose style, Billington comments, “I admired the way she had a certain classical sound but also moved easily from traditional forms to free verse.”

The beginning of Trethewey’s career began in her freshmen year of college when her 40-year-old mother was murdered. She reported to the Associated Press, “I started writing poems as a response to that great loss, much the way that people responded, for example, after 9/11.” Therefore, memory is a pervasive theme in her poems – and not only her own. She sought to write the histories of people who would not be represented under most circumstances.

Her first volume, published in 2000, is called “Domestic Work” and focuses on the lives of laborers – black maids, cleaning women, and workers in factories.  Published in 2002, “Bellocq’s Ophelia” is a novella that tells the story of a prostitute, followed by her 2007 Pulitzer Prize winning work “Native Guard” that was written from the perspective of black Civil War soldiers.  Her first non-fiction book, “Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast” was published in 2010.

Trethewey, born in Mississippi and now living in Decatur, Ga., is the first Southerner to hold the post since original laureate Robert Penn Warren, and the first African-American since 1993 U.S. Poet Laureate Rita Dove.

This fall, her fourth collection of poetry titled “Thrall” will be published.  In the poems, she will analyze her relationship with her white father, as well as the subject of family memories.

Small Dogs Genetics Indicate Middle Eastern Ancestry

A mutation may explain the size, but there's no excusing the cherry dress

A team of researchers, led by Melissa Gray and Robert Wayne from the University of California, Los Angeles, have traced the evolutionary history of the pint-sized pooch back to the Middle East. In a genetic study published in the open-access journal BMC Biology, the team surveyed a large sample of grey wolves, and discovered that the genetic mutation largely responsible for small body size had evolved long before wild dogs were ever domesticated by humanity.

Genetics are to blame for looks, as well as size.

All small dogs possess a variant of the IGF1 gene, and apparently, Middle Eastern wolves also have it. Previous work in the region has uncovered the fossilized remains of 12,000-year-old small domestic dogs, supporting the creature’s proposed origins. Older remains of much larger animals have been discovered in Belgium, Germany and Western russia, put the concentration of small animals in a very localized area. According to Gray, the smaller-sized animals were probably preferred by the individuals who lived in densely packed agricultural environments. A reduced size is a frequent side effect to domestication, as it has been demonstrated by goats, swine and cattle. Considering such an environment, where dogs are more likely going to live partially indoors or within confined parameters, it is likely that smaller pets were more popular than the larger dogs.

Eames, Two Peas in a Pod



Have you ever seen the chair that looks like a potato chip?  or thought that a molded fiberglass rockers would be comfortable?  Then you have experienced a couple of the many pieces this prolific couple has designed.  Thes Eameses vision of modern design was a catalyst for social change; they achieved their goal with elegance, beauty and wit.

“One of the best kept secrets in science is how unpompous scientists are at their science, and the amount of honest fun that for them is part of it,” Charles Eames once wrote.  You can see the whimsy in their pieces; feel the spirit of their designs as they adorn your home.

Charles got into the practice of molding plywood, a signature trademark of his furniture, in a most interesting way.  He and Eero Saarinen designed furniture for New York’s MOMA “Organic Design in Home Furnishings” competition.  Using a new technique of wood molding  they won first place.

This win led to a contract to design leg splints and airplane parts for the military.  Studying  the shape of the human body they designed the curves of the splints to fit perfectly.  With access to military technology and manufacturing facilities they equipped Eames with the know-how  he needed to perfect the technique he employed for molding plywood and  mass producing  it.

Through the study of the human body and prototyping in plaster the Eames’ team began to create furniture that is both ergonomic and comfortable.  Using unexpected materials they figured out how to mold it to the the human body.  Their furniture was both affordable and multifunctional.  Today Eames pieces are highly desirable and quite expensive but worth every cent.

Good design was a way to improve people’s lives according to the Eameses; they believed they were helping others understand the world around them.  I know how I feel when I look at an Eames chair; sit in it, like I understand.

Historical Props for Hire Ensures Historically Accurate Movie Magic

The cover of the Novel

“Water for Elephants,” the 2006 bestselling novel by Sara Gruen, is the story of a certain veterinary student who one day decided to quit school and runaway to join the circus. When someone decided to turn it into a movie, they hired Jim Elyea‘s to make sure that the period in history, around 1931, was so flawlessly reproduced that prop briefcases held by the Cornell University students would look authentic when shooting begins in Santa Paula, California this May.

Jim Elyea, the co-owner of History for Hire, a prop house in North Hollywood, immediately sets to work skimming through the one 1931 sears catalogue that he has stored away in his 5,000-book collection. He is looking for the right design, and selects the most appropriate model from 400 vintage briefcases. Elyea wouldn’t have a problem identifying the guitar and amp used by Elvis’ guitarist, Scotty Moore, nor the kid of powder horn that was blown during the American Civil War. He’s keen to details, and never wrong about his history.

With his wife and business partner, Pam, Jim Elyea has managed to keep this 25-year-old company thriving in a part of Hollywood that has suffered tremendously over the past decade. Their secret? Avoiding debt and focusing their business on hard-to-find historical props. The couple admits that the price reflects the research that goes into their inventory, but Pam explains her philosophy behind their meticulous nature as such:

Jim Elyea, Co-Owner of History for Hire

“Richard Attenborough told us that people learn their history from the movies, so it’s important to get it right.”

Apparently, they took the famed British documentarist’s words quite seriously.

Fairfield Youth Sing of African-American History

Fairfield High School's African American Voices of Youth

Fairfield High School's African American Voices of Youth

History through Music: African American Creativity from Gospel to Hip-Hop” is set to celebrate Black History Month toward the end February. Damien Strecker, social studies teacher, and the organizational adviser for the group, articulates the significance of education in the community, and his commitment to ensure that it thrives. Strecker seizes an opportunity to showcase the talent of the student body, while simultaneously bringing more awareness to the significance of Black History Month, which contributes to the history of the United States. “There’s absolutely no way to truly understand the American experience unless you do get these other narratives,” he said.

The performance will first introduce the group as a whole unit before starting into the story of African-American heritage. Students narrate the significance of each style before they perform each piece, which does it’s part to carry the audience through the centuries of evolution experienced by African-Americans.

Influential Africa-Americans

This isn’t simply a performance, but a celebration. What was originally a history club has developed into a social service club. They have set aside their normal after-school history lessons and service projects, in order to prepare for the big event.

Make sure not to miss this historic celebration at the Performing Arts Center at Fairfield High School (8800 Holden Blvd.) at 7p.m. February, 25th.