Natasha Trethewey

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Natasha Trethewey
Trethewey reading at the Library of Congress in 2013
Born (1966-04-26) April 26, 1966 (age 52)
Gulfport, Mississippi, U.S.
OccupationPoet, professor
Alma materAB, University of Georgia,
MA, Hollins University,
MFA, University of Massachusetts Amherst
Notable awardsPulitzer Prize for Poetry
Poet Laureate of Mississippi
United States Poet Laureate
2012, 2014
Lamont Poet at Phillips Exeter Academy
Heinz Award in Arts and Humanities
SpouseBrett Gadsden

Natasha Trethewey (born April 26, 1966) is an American poet who was appointed United States Poet Laureate in 2012 and again in 2014.[1] She won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for her 2006 collection Native Guard,[2] and she is a former Poet Laureate of Mississippi.[3]

She is the Board of Trustees Professor of English at Northwestern University.


Trethewey was born in Gulfport, Mississippi, on April 26, 1966, Confederate Memorial Day, to Eric Trethewey and Gwendolyn Ann Turnbough, who were married illegally at the time of her birth, a year before the U.S. Supreme Court struck down anti-miscegenation laws with Loving v. Virginia. Her birth certificate noted the race of her mother as "colored", and the race of her father as "Canadian".[4]

Trethewey's mother, a social worker, was part of the inspiration for Native Guard (2006), which is dedicated to her memory. Trethewey's parents divorced when she was young and Turnbough was murdered in 1985 by her second husband, whom she had recently divorced, when Trethewey was 19 years old.[5] Recalling her reaction to her mother's death, she said: "that was the moment when I both felt that I would become a poet and then immediately afterward felt that I would not. I turned to poetry to make sense of what had happened."[4]

Natasha Trethewey's father was also a poet; he was a professor of English at Hollins University.[6][7]

Natasha Trethewey during book signing at the University of Michigan, 2011


Trethewey earned her B.A. degree in English from the University of Georgia, an M.A. in English and Creative Writing from Hollins University, and an M.F.A. in poetry from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 1995.[8] In May 2010 Trethewey delivered the commencement speech at Hollins University and was awarded an honorary doctorate.[6] She had previously received an honorary degree from Delta State University in her native Mississippi.[9]


Structurally, her work combines free verse with more structured, traditional forms such as the sonnet and the villanelle. Thematically, her work examines "memory and the racial legacy of America".[4] Bellocq's Ophelia (2002), for example, is a collection of poetry in the form of an epistolary novella; it tells the fictional story of a mixed-race prostitute who was photographed by E. J. Bellocq in early 20th-century New Orleans.

The American Civil War makes frequent appearances in her work. Born on Confederate Memorial Day—exactly 100 years afterwards—Trethewey explains that she could not have "escaped learning about the Civil War and what it represented", and that it had fascinated her since childhood.[4] For example, her 2006 book Native Guard tells the story of the Louisiana Native Guards, an all-black regiment in the Union Army, composed mainly of former slaves who enlisted, that guarded the Confederate prisoners of war.

United States Poet Laureate[edit]

On June 7, 2012, James Billington, the Librarian of Congress, named her the 19th US Poet Laureate. Billington said, after hearing her poetry at the National Book Festival, that he was "immediately struck by a kind of classic quality with a richness and variety of structures with which she presents her poetry … she intermixes her story with the historical story in a way that takes you deep into the human tragedy of it."[10] Newspapers noted that unlike most poets laureate, Trethewey is in the middle of her career.[4] She was also the first laureate to take up residence in Washington, D.C., when she did so in January 2013.[11] On May 14, 2014, Trethewey delivered her final lecture to conclude her second term as US Poet Laureate.[12]



  • Domestic Work. Graywolf Press. 2000. ISBN 978-1-55597-309-4.
  • Bellocq's Ophelia. Graywolf Press. 2002. ISBN 978-1-55597-359-9.[8]
  • Native Guard. Houghton Mifflin. 2006. ISBN 978-0-618-87265-7.
  • Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. University of Georgia Press. 2010. ISBN 978-0-8203-3381-6. (Poetry, essays, and letters)
  • Thrall. Houghton Mifflin. 2012. ISBN 978-0547571607.
  • Monument: Poems New and Selected. Houghton Mifflin. 2018. ISBN 978-1328507846.

As editor[edit]

  • Trethewey, Natasha; Livengood, Jeb, eds. (2007). Best New Poets 2007. Charlottesville, Virginia: Samovar Press. ISBN 978-0-976-62962-7.[13]



  1. ^ a b Bentley, Rosalind (June 6, 2012). "Emory professor named U.S. poet laureate". Atlanta Journal Constitution. Retrieved June 7, 2012.
  2. ^ "Pulitzer Prize Winner Trethewey Discusses Poetry Collection". PBS Online News Hour. April 25, 2007. Retrieved June 7, 2012.
  3. ^ a b "Mississippi has new poet laureate". Mississippi Arts Commission. Archived from the original on March 31, 2017. Retrieved June 7, 2012.
  4. ^ a b c d e McGrath, Charles (June 6, 2012). "New Laureate Looks Deep Into Memory". The New York Times. Retrieved 8 June 2012.
  5. ^ Solomon, Deborah (May 13, 2007). "Native Daughter". New York Times Magazine. Retrieved July 20, 2012.
  6. ^ a b Marrano, Gene (May 7, 2010). "Hollins Students Ready To Do "Fantastic Things"". The Roanoke Star. Retrieved June 7, 2012.
  7. ^ "Faculty". M.F.A in Creative Writing. Hollins University. Retrieved June 7, 2012.
  8. ^ a b "Memory's metaphors". The Boston Globe. May 7, 2007. p. A10.
  9. ^ "Delta State awards Pulitzer Prize winner honorary degree at Fall Commencement". Delta State University. December 8, 2007. Retrieved June 7, 2012.
  10. ^ Haq, Husna (June 7, 2012). "Natasha Trethewey is named as the newest poet laureate". Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved June 11, 2012.
  11. ^ Zongker, Barry (June 7, 2012). "Natasha Trethewey, explorer of forgotten Civil War history, named 19th U.S. poet laureate". The Province. Associated Press. Retrieved June 11, 2012.
  12. ^ "POET LAUREATE FINAL LECTURE". Library of Congress. Retrieved May 7, 2014.
  13. ^ Robinson, Malaika I. (January 17, 2008). "Best American Poetry 2007 & Best New Poets 2007". Olsson's: The News From Poems. Olsson's Books Records. Retrieved June 7, 2012.
  14. ^ "Poet Natasha Trethewey, Hymning the Native Guard". NPR. July 16, 2007. Retrieved April 7, 2011.
  15. ^ "Residents" (PDF). The Rockefeller Foundation 2004 Annual Report. The Rockefeller Foundation. Retrieved June 7, 2012.
  16. ^ "Lillian Smith Book Award Winners". University of Georgia. Archived from the original on June 16, 2012. Retrieved June 7, 2012.
  17. ^ "Prize Winning Books". Cave Canem Foundation. Archived from the original on May 28, 2012. Retrieved June 7, 2012.

External links[edit]