Poet at historical moment





Elizabeth Alexander was a toddler in a stroller when her parents took her to hear Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech in Washington.

Now it's Alexander's turn to move the nation.

Alexander, professor of African American studies at Yale University, was chosen by President-elect Barack Obama to compose and read a poem for his inauguration on Jan. 20.

"I'm completely thrilled and deeply, deeply honored," Alexander said Thursday.

Alexander's mother is a historian specializing in African American women's history at George Washington University. Her father has been a presidential civil rights adviser and secretary of the Army.

"The civil rights movement was fully alive in our home," Alexander said.

Attending King's 1963 speech was an iconic moment for the family.

"That story was always a part of family stories that were told as a way of thinking about the importance of being civic, the importance of looking forward, the importance of having visionary leaders, the importance of involving yourself with the community, the importance of recognizing the historical moment and historical possibilities," Alexander said.

Alexander said her parents are thrilled at her selection.

"This is an incomparable thrill to them in the way that Obama's presidency is an especially potent and powerful thing for African Americans in their 70s who have devoted their lives to progress," Alexander said. "To be a part of it, I almost can't imagine it myself."

Alexander, who is 46 and married with two children, was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2005 for her collection "American Sublime." Her other books include "The Venus Hottentot," "Body of Life" and "Antebellum Dream Book."


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