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About Natasha Trethewey
Natasha Trethewey is an American poet who was appointed United States Poet Laureate in June 2012; she began her official duties in September. She won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for her 2006 collection Native Guard, and she is the Poet Laureate of Mississippi.
She is the Robert W. Woodruff Professor of English and Creative Writing at Emory University, where she also directs the Creative Writing Program.
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”.
Trethewey's mother, a social worker, was part of the inspiration for Native Guard, 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. 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".
Natasha Trethewey's father is also a poet; he is a professor of English at Hollins University.
Trethewey earned her B.A. 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. In May 2010 Trethewey delivered the commencement speech at Hollins University and was awarded an honorary doctorate. She had previously received an honorary degree from Delta State University in her native Mississippi.
Structurally, her work combines free verse with more structured, traditional forms like the sonnet and the villanelle. Thematically, her work examines "memory and the racial legacy of America". Bellocq's Ophelia (2002), for example, is a collection of poetry in the form of an epistolary novella; it tells the fictional story 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. For example, 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.
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." Newspapers noted that unlike most poets laureate, Trethewey is in the middle of her career. She was also the first laureate to take up residence in Washington, D.C., when she did so in January 2013. On May 14, 2014, Tretheway delivered her final lecture to conclude her second term as US Poet Laureate.
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