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Conversations with Natasha Trethewey

Conversations with Natasha Trethewey

Edited by Joan Wylie Hall
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 256
  • Book Info
    Conversations with Natasha Trethewey
    Book Description:

    United States Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey (b. 1966) describes her mode as elegiac. Although the loss of her murdered mother informs each book, Trethewey's range of forms and subjects is wide. In compact sonnets, elegant villanelles, ballad stanzas, and free verse, she creates monuments to mixed-race children of colonial Mexico, African American soldiers from the Civil War, a beautiful prostitute in 1910 New Orleans, and domestic workers from the twentieth-century North and South.

    Because her white father and her black mother could not marry legally in Mississippi, Trethewey says she was "given" her subject matter as "the daughter of miscegenation." A sense of psychological exile is evident from her first collection, Domestic Work (2000), to the recent Thrall (2012). Biracial people of the Americas are a major focus of her poetry and her prose book Beyond Katrina, a meditation on family, community, and the natural environment of the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

    The interviews featured within Conversations with Natasha Trethewey provide intriguing artistic and biographical insights into her work. The Pulitzer Prize-winning poet cites diverse influences, from Anne Frank to Seamus Heaney. She emotionally acknowledges Rita Dove's large impact, and she boldly positions herself in the southern literary tradition of Faulkner and Robert Penn Warren. Commenting on "Pastoral," "South," and other poems, Trethewey guides readers to deeper perception and empathy.

    eISBN: 978-1-62103-975-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. vii-xxv)

    Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey and her father, Eric Trethewey, have shared the platform for several poetry readings; and their relationship as biracial child and divorced Caucasian parent is a subject of Thrall (2012), her latest book. Shortly after her selection as Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress for 2012–2013, both authors were interviewed by Mike Allen of the Roanoke Times. Roanoke, Virginia, is home to Hollins University, where Eric Trethewey has taught since 1984, and where his daughter—a Hollins M.A. graduate—served as 2012 Louis D. Rubin writer-in-residence. Citing the active laureateships of Robert Pinsky and...

  4. Chronology
    (pp. xxvi-2)
  5. An Interview with Natasha Trethewey
    (pp. 3-17)
    Jill Petty and Natasha Trethewey

    JILL PETTY: Photography figures a lot in your work—often you’re in the heads of black people while they’re being photographed, or speaking to whites who are taking those pictures. What does that allow you to explore? What are you saying about visibility or spectatorship?

    NATASHA TRETHEWEY: I actually think about both, but I’m especially interested in absence. Every photograph represents a moment that is no longer, passed, as well as ways of being that have disappeared. I’ve always been a little obsessed with the way photographs hold and create an object out of that moment. And I’ve often thought...

  6. A Conversation with Natasha Trethewey
    (pp. 18-32)
    David Haney and Natasha Trethewey

    This interview took place March 28, 2003, in the office of Cold Mountain Review at Appalachian State University, during Natasha Trethewey’s visit as part of Appalachian State’s Visiting Writers Series. Trethewey, who teaches creative writing at Emory University, is the author of two collections of poems, Domestic Work (2000) and Bellocq’s Ophelia (2002), both on Graywolf Press. Poems in the latter collection are inspired by early twentieth-century photos taken by E.J. Bellocq of New Orleans prostitutes. Trethewey not only imagines the life of “Ophelia” in poems that re-create the life of a mixed-race prostitute forced to negotiate among different racial,...

  7. Natasha Trethewey—Decatur, Georgia
    (pp. 33-36)
    W. T. Pfefferle and Natasha Trethewey

    No city offers a more stunning transition from its ring of highways and interstates to its inner hub of suburban plots. Coming into Atlanta is like driving on the Ugly Highway to Ugly Town. The gray slabs extend to four and five lanes in every direction. Cloverleaf after cloverleaf—almost all of them under construction—web together endlessly. The pines that line the road obscure everything else that might resemble a place where one would want to spend some time; and the cars just hurtle onward, onward, deadeye stare, smoldering tires, eighteen-wheelers pinning you in one lane or the other....

  8. Interview: Natasha Trethewey on Facts, Photographs, and Loss
    (pp. 37-44)
    Sara Kaplan and Natasha Trethewey

    Sara Kaplan: Poets find their inspiration from any number of sources—paintings and songs, for example. American history, or more specifically, southern American history, seems to be from where you draw much of your inspiration. Your poems reinterpret our history, however, not from the stance of an historian; rather, history allows you to create new language. In terms of your writing process, how much and how often do you commit yourself to researching your subjects? When does the research end and, you, the poet, begin?

    Natasha Trethewey: I spend a lot of time doing research. In Native Guard, I had...

  9. An Interview with Natasha Trethewey
    (pp. 45-60)
    Pearl Amelia McHaney and Natasha Trethewey

    Natasha Trethewey’s subject is history: hers; her mother’s—Gwendolyn Ann Turnbough; her mother’s tragic death at the hands of a divorced second husband; the Louisiana Native Guards—freed slaves serving the Union by guarding Confederate soldiers imprisoned at Fort Massachusetts on Ship Island in the Gulf of Mexico; the Fugitive Poets and the canon of Southern poetry; and the South—its continuing struggle to accept its story. In poems both elegiac and elegant, Trethewey tells these stories and writes the forgotten into history. She is the author of Domestic Work (Graywolf 2000), winner of the inaugural 1999 Cave Canem poetry...

  10. Interview with Natasha Trethewey
    (pp. 61-76)
    Remica L. Bingham and Natasha Trethewey

    The day is a whirlwind. Professor Trethewey enters apologizing for her tardiness and explains that this has been another morning filled with unexpected demands. Even so, after appearances on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer and Fresh Air with Terry Gross, most tasks are just footnotes on her path following the Pulitzer Prize. In April, after the prizes were announced and she was informed that she had won for her book Native Guard, everything changed.

    Natasha Trethewey was born in Gulfport, Mississippi, in 1966. She attended the University of Georgia, Hollins University, and the University of Massachusetts before winning the inaugural...

  11. Natasha Trethewey Interview
    (pp. 77-86)
    Jonathan Fink and Natasha Trethewey

    Jonathan Fink: Welcome. This is Jon Fink. I am here representing Panhandler and the University of West Florida. We are thrilled today to have Natasha Trethewey to talk with. I guess we should start with telling you congratulations on the Pulitzer Prize.

    Natasha Trethewey: Thank you very much.

    JF: You read at UWF last spring and we all take probably undue pride in the fact that you won right after you visited us.

    NT: That was one of the best readings because the audience there was just a terrific and warm audience. I felt really good, so thank you for...

  12. An Interview with Natasha Trethewey
    (pp. 87-91)
    Wendy Anderson and Natasha Trethewey

    Poet Natasha Trethewey spoke about her 2007 Pulitzer Prize–winning book, Native Guard, on Martin Luther King Day—perhaps fitting for someone who chronicles growing up biracial in the South with a black mom and white dad who were not allowed to get married in their own state. A portion of the book is in the voice of one of the Native Guards of the Civil War, part of a black Union regiment sent to watch Confederate prisoners at Fort Massachusetts on Ship Island off Gulfport, Mississippi. Trethewey often visited the island with her grandmother without ever knowing this history,...

  13. Conversation between Natasha Trethewey and Alan Fox in New York City, January 31st, 2008
    (pp. 92-105)
    Alan Fox and Natasha Trethewey

    Fox: We’re in New York City on January 31st, 2008, with Natasha Trethewey. For a young poet, you’ve won a lot of prizes. How has that affected you?

    TRETHEWEY: The most recent prize of course is the one that I never could have dreamed of in a million years. But at some point while writing Native Guard, I began thinking about trying to create a monument in words to my mother, and it was really important for me that the book come out on my fortieth birthday, or while I was forty, I should say, because that’s the last age...

  14. Because of Blood: Natasha Trethewey’s Historical Memory
    (pp. 106-112)
    Lisa DeVries and Natasha Trethewey

    She reads with a clear cadence and soothing tone, occasionally glancing at the page for formality’s sake, as if she has the poem memorized. Here is a little secret; she does. “I tend to be a real foot-tapper,” states Natasha Trethewey, the third African American woman after Gwendolyn Brooks and Rita Dove to win the Pulitzer Prize. She visited East Carolina University April 2 for a public reading and book signing. Her upcoming work, Thrall, deals with telling the untold stories of history, identity politics, racism, and miscegenation. She claims that she writes only what she is given, “a violent...

  15. An Interview with Natasha Trethewey
    (pp. 113-125)
    Christian Teresi and Natasha Trethewey

    Christian Teresi: Each of your books has an increased formal element. How much of your maturation as a writer played into your ability to progress formally?

    Natasha Trethewey: I did not write, at first, in traditional forms as much as I do now—even though one of my first published poems, “Flounder,” is a ballad. Early on, my father—who was one of my first teachers—would challenge me to write in certain forms. He’d pull out a copy of Roethke’s “My Papa’s Waltz,” for example, and say, “Can you write a poem like this?” I think my answer was...

  16. Interview with Natasha Trethewey
    (pp. 126-135)
    Ana-Maurine Lara and Natasha Trethewey

    This interview was conducted in December 2009, as Natasha Trethewey completed the James Weldon Johnson Fellowship in African American Studies at the Yale University Beinecke Rare Books and Manuscript Library. The interview came on the tails of a conversation between Elizabeth Alexander and Natasha Trethewey, sponsored by Endeavors: Perspectives on Black Life and Culture—a year-long graduate colloquium organized by the graduate students in African American studies, in which both poets discussed family, place, and poetry in the contemporary era. Natasha Trethewey is author of three poetry collections—Domestic Work (Graywolf, 2000), Bellocq’s Ophelia (Graywolf, 2002) and Native Guard (Houghton...

  17. A Conversation with Natasha Trethewey
    (pp. 136-149)
    Marc McKee and Natasha Trethewey

    This interview was conducted in March 2010 at the University of Missouri, where the poet participated in writing residencies with the graduate students of the creative writing program. The conversation took place, it should be noted, after a very pleasant lunch.

    MARC McKEE: Natasha, I’d like to start by asking you where a poem begins. Often when I’m reading a poem I find fascinating or galvanizing, I wonder what kernel of energy allowed for the poem’s genesis. Could you talk a little bit about that?

    NATASHA TRETHEWEY: I do that too. I always try to read other poets’ poems to...

  18. Outside the Frame: An Interview with Natasha Trethewey
    (pp. 150-155)
    Regina Bennett, Harbour Winn, Zoe Miles and Natasha Trethewey

    Natasha Trethewey was the featured poet at Oklahoma City University’s annual Thatcher Hoffman Smith Distinguished Writer Series, supported in part by a grant from OHC. Trethewey’s poems explore cultural memory and ethnic identity, which reflect her own experience as the child of a black mother and white father and her fascination with lost histories. She won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for poetry for Native Guard (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2nd edition; 2006), a collection of poems about the Louisiana Native Guard, the Union army’s first all-black regiment in the Civil War. Trethewey’s other poetry collections include Domestic Work (Graywolf Press, 2000)...

  19. Southern Crossings: An Interview with Natasha Trethewey
    (pp. 156-167)
    Daniel Cross Turner and Natasha Trethewey

    This interview was conducted on April 23, 2010 in Loudonville, New York, where Trethewey served as the featured writer for Siena College’s Greyfriar Living Literature Series.

    Daniel Cross Turner: Looking back, do you see a sense of progression—or perhaps “direction” might be a better term—in your career as a poet, from Domestic Work to Bellocq’s Ophelia to Native Guard?

    Natasha Trethewey: Yes I do. I see in my volumes a deepening of my main concerns. In Domestic Work, I began with the historical impulse and the impetus to recover from the margins the stories of those people who...

  20. Jake Adam York Interviews Natasha Trethewey
    (pp. 168-173)
    Jake Adam York and Natasha Trethewey

    Jake Adam York: So you lived in Atlanta, or went to school in Atlanta, from the age of six or seven?

    Natasha Trethewey: Yes, six—first grade.

    JAY: So you’ve lived in Atlanta probably more of your life than any other place, right?

    NT: Yes.

    JAY: I mean since you’ve been back here in Atlanta for what? Eight years? Ten years?

    NT: Almost ten years now. Unbelievable.

    JAY: Obviously your poems in some ways gave you a mechanism for returning to Atlanta. Do you feel in some ways that maybe you were writing back to Atlanta, which we see very...

  21. Report from Part Three: Rita Dove and Natasha Trethewey, Entering the World through Language
    (pp. 174-195)
    Rudolph Byrd, Rita Dove and Natasha Trethewey

    Byrd: Welcome to this dialogue, which we have called, “Report from Part Three.” And “Report from Part Three” is a reference to “Report from Part One” and “Report from Part Two,” the autobiographies of Gwendolyn Brooks, who was the first African American to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for her volume Annie Allen, which she received the Pulitzer Prize for in 1950. And “Report from Part Three” is a reference to the fact that there are only three African American poets who have received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. It’s Gwendolyn Brooks, then Rita Dove for Thomas and Beulah...

  22. An Interview with Natasha Trethewey
    (pp. 196-204)
    Jocelyn Heath and Natasha Trethewey

    Jocelyn Heath: Beyond Katrina blends personal and collective memories of an event that is not too long gone from the public eye, and is still current for those living on the Gulf Coast. What are the challenges of writing about something topical, even if it has personal resonance for you the writer?

    Natasha Trethewey: I think the biggest challenge that I faced with writing Beyond Katrina and that particular topic was that, as you said, it is in many ways ongoing for the people who are there, and it is also a thing of contested memory. Contested memory is the...

  23. Index
    (pp. 205-216)