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 55)
Gulfport, Mississippi, U.S.
OccupationPoet, professor
Alma materUniversity of Georgia (AB)
Hollins University (MA)
University of Massachusetts Amherst (MFA)
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 2013.[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]

Trethewey is the Board of Trustees Professor of English at Northwestern University. She previously served as the Robert W. Woodruff Professor of English and Creative Writing at Emory University, where she taught from 2001 to 2017.[4]

Trethewey was elected in 2019 both to the American Academy of Arts and Letters[5] and as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. Academy of American Poets Chancellor David St. John said Trethewey “is one of our formal masters, a poet of exquisite delicacy and poise who is always unveiling the racial and historical inequities of our country and the ongoing personal expense of these injustices. Rarely has any poetic intersection of cultural and personal experience felt more inevitable, more painful, or profound.”[6]


Natasha Trethewey was born in Gulfport, Mississippi, on April 26, 1966, Confederate Memorial Day, to Eric Trethewey and Gwendolyn Ann Turnbough. Her parents had traveled to Ohio to marry because their marriage was illegal in Mississippi at the time of Trethewey's 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".[7][8]

Trethewey's mother, Gwendolyn Ann Turnbough, was a social worker and part of the inspiration for Native Guard (2006), which is dedicated to her memory. Trethewey's parents divorced when she was six and Turnbough was murdered in 1985 by her second husband, whom she had recently divorced, when Trethewey was 19 years old.[9] 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."[7]

Trethewey's father, Canadian emigrant Eric Trethewey, was also a poet and a professor of English at Hollins University.[10][11][12]

Trethewey is married to historian Brett Gadsden.[13]

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.[14] In May 2010 Trethewey delivered the commencement speech at Hollins University and was awarded an honorary doctorate.[10] She had previously received an honorary degree from Delta State University in her native Mississippi.[15]


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".[7] Trethewey's first published collection, Domestic Work (2000), was the inaugural recipient of the Cave Canem prize for a first book by an African American poet.[16] The book explores the work and lives of black men and women in the South.

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.

In her work, "Beyond Katrina" published in 2015 by the University of Georgia Press is an account of the devastating events that happened after the hurricane hit the Mississippi Gulf Coast. In this novel, you will see a written version of how the people in her life were affected by the damage of Hurricane Katrina. This book brings in race conflicts, memories of the family background, and the economic effects of what the hurricane caused. Yes, this is a book written by Natasha Trethewey, yet she includes her poetry to convey the emotions and feelings to capture the events that were caused beyond the hurricane itself. In this book, you tackle what it's like being an African American in a troubled state of circumstance with the place where one grew up and loves. In her poetry, we see the motif of what it is like being African American and the struggles of what she faced in the aftermath of Katrina. She also brings up other poets and authors to express her feelings more of the impact of what it's like in the book. Another factor of the book that captures the attention of the readers is the pictures she includes with her writing. This is a factor in her work because it shows the events and life story where we can put a face to the people she talks about. We can empathize with her words.

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.[7] 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.[17] 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."[18] Newspapers noted that unlike most poets laureate, Trethewey is in the middle of her career.[7] She was also the first laureate to take up residence in Washington, D.C., when she did so in January 2013.[19]

Trethewey was appointed for a second term as US Poet Laureate in 2013,[6] and as several previous multiyear laureates had done, Trethewey took on a project, which took the form of a regular section on PBS News Hour called "Where Poetry Lives".[20] On May 14, 2014, Trethewey delivered her final lecture to conclude her second term as US Poet Laureate.[21]


She has held appointments at Duke University, as the Lehman Brady Joint Chair Professor of Documentary and American Studies, and at Emory University, where she was Robert W. Woodruff Professor of English and Creative Writing; the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill; and Yale University.[22]



  • Domestic Work. Graywolf Press. 2000. ISBN 978-1-55597-309-4.
  • Bellocq's Ophelia. Graywolf Press. 2002. ISBN 978-1-55597-359-9.[14]
  • 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]




  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. ^ "Former U.S. Poet Laureate to Leave Emory for Northwestern". Emory Wheel. 2016-11-24. Retrieved 2020-07-22.
  5. ^ Fedor, Ashley. "2019 Newly Elected Members". American Academy of Arts and Letters. Retrieved 8 January 2020.
  6. ^ a b c Trethewey, Natasha (2001-02-01). "Natasha Trethewey - Poet | Academy of American Poets". Natasha Trethewey. Retrieved 2019-01-18.
  7. ^ a b c d e McGrath, Charles (June 6, 2012). "New Laureate Looks Deep Into Memory". The New York Times. Retrieved 8 June 2012.
  8. ^ Trethewey, Eric In the Traces: poems. Tempe, Ariz.: Inland Boat/Porch Publications 1980 // Songs and Lamentations: poems. Cincinnati, OH: Word Press, c2004
  9. ^ Solomon, Deborah (May 13, 2007). "Native Daughter". New York Times Magazine. Retrieved July 20, 2012.
  10. ^ a b Marrano, Gene (May 7, 2010). "Hollins Students Ready To Do "Fantastic Things"". The Roanoke Star. Retrieved June 7, 2012.
  11. ^ "Faculty". M.F.A in Creative Writing. Hollins University. Retrieved June 7, 2012.
  12. ^ Foundation, Poetry (2019-01-17). "Natasha Trethewey". Poetry Foundation. Retrieved 2019-01-18.
  13. ^ "Brett Gadsden: Department of History - Northwestern University". Retrieved 2019-01-18.
  14. ^ a b "Memory's metaphors". The Boston Globe. May 7, 2007. p. A10.
  15. ^ "Delta State awards Pulitzer Prize winner honorary degree at Fall Commencement". Delta State University. December 8, 2007. Retrieved June 7, 2012.
  16. ^ "Cave Canem » Publications". Retrieved 2019-01-18.
  17. ^ "Librarian of Congress Appoints Natasha Trethewey Poet Laureate". Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. Retrieved 2019-01-18.
  18. ^ Haq, Husna (June 7, 2012). "Natasha Trethewey is named as the newest poet laureate". Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved June 11, 2012.
  19. ^ 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.
  20. ^ "where poetry lives". PBS NewsHour. Retrieved 2019-01-18.
  21. ^ "Natasha Trethewey Presents Final Lecture as Poet Laureate Webcast | Library of Congress". Retrieved 2019-01-18.
  22. ^ "Natasha Trethewey". Poetry Foundation. Retrieved 2021-03-24.
  23. ^ 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.
  24. ^ "Introducing Our Class of 2021". Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards. April 5, 2021. Retrieved April 5, 2021.
  25. ^ Missing or empty |title= (help)
  26. ^ "Heinz Awards - Natasha Trethewey".
  27. ^ "Golden Plate Awardees of the American Academy of Achievement". American Academy of Achievement.
  28. ^ "2012 Summit Highlights Photo". Poet Laureate of the United States Natasha Trethewey receives the Golden Plate Award from Benjamin Carson.
  29. ^ "Georgia Writers Hall of Fame". Retrieved 2020-01-25.
  30. ^ "Welcome JWJ Fellow Natasha Trethewey | Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library". Retrieved 2019-01-18.
  31. ^ "Trethewey Named Ga. Woman of the Year | Emory University | Atlanta, GA". Retrieved 2019-01-18.
  32. ^ "Poet Natasha Trethewey, Hymning the Native Guard". NPR. July 16, 2007. Retrieved April 7, 2011.
  33. ^ "Residents" (PDF). The Rockefeller Foundation 2004 Annual Report. The Rockefeller Foundation. Retrieved June 7, 2012.
  34. ^ "Lillian Smith Book Award Winners". University of Georgia. Archived from the original on June 16, 2012. Retrieved June 7, 2012.
  35. ^ "Prize Winning Books". Cave Canem Foundation. Archived from the original on May 28, 2012. Retrieved June 7, 2012.

External links[edit]