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About this poet

Natasha Trethewey was born on April 26, 1966, in Gulfport, Mississippi. She earned an MA in poetry from Hollins University and an MFA in poetry from the University of Massachusetts.

Her first collection of poetry, Domestic Work (Graywolf Press, 2000), was selected by Rita Dove as the winner of the inaugural Cave Canem Poetry Prize for the best first book by an African American poet and won both the 2001 Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Book Prize and the 2001 Lillian Smith Award for Poetry.

Since then, she has published three more collections of poetry, including Thrall (Houghton Mifflin, 2012); Native Guard (Houghton Mifflin, 2006), which received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry; and Bellocq's Ophelia (Graywolf Press, 2002).

In her introduction to Domestic Work, Rita Dove said, "Trethewey eschews the Polaroid instant, choosing to render the unsuspecting yearnings and tremulous hopes that accompany our most private thoughts—reclaiming for us that interior life where the true self flourishes and to which we return, in solitary reverie, for strength."

Trethewey's honors include the Bunting Fellowship from the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation. She is the Robert W. Woodruff Professor of English and Creative Writing at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.

In 2012, Trethewey was named as both the state poet laureate of Mississippi and the 19th U.S. poet laureate by the Library of Congress. In 2013, she was appointed for a second term, during which she travelled to cities and towns across the country meeting with the general public to seek out the many ways poetry lives in American communities and reported on her discoveries in a regular feature on the PBS NewsHour Poetry Series. She was succeeded in 2014 by Charles Wright.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry

Thrall (Houghton Mifflin, 2012)
Native Guard (Houghton Mifflin, 2006)
Bellocq's Ophelia (Graywolf Press, 2002)
Domestic Work (Graywolf Press, 2000)

Letter Home

Natasha Trethewey, 1966
--New Orleans, November 1910

Four weeks have passed since I left, and still 
I must write to you of no work. I've worn down 
the soles and walked through the tightness 
of my new shoes calling upon the merchants, 
their offices bustling. All the while I kept thinking 
my plain English and good writing would secure 
for me some modest position Though I dress each day 
in my best, hands covered with the lace gloves 
you crocheted--no one needs a girl. How flat 
the word sounds, and heavy. My purse thins. 
I spend foolishly to make an appearance of quiet 
industry, to mask the desperation that tightens 
my throat. I sit watching-- 

though I pretend not to notice--the dark maids
ambling by with their white charges. Do I deceive 
anyone? Were they to see my hands, brown 
as your dear face, they'd know I'm not quite 
what I pretend to be. I walk these streets 
a white woman, or so I think, until I catch the eyes 
of some stranger upon me, and I must lower mine, 
a negress again. There are enough things here 
to remind me who I am. Mules lumbering through 
the crowded streets send me into reverie, their footfall 
the sound of a pointer and chalk hitting the blackboard 
at school, only louder. Then there are women, clicking 
their tongues in conversation, carrying their loads 
on their heads. Their husky voices, the wash pots 
and irons of the laundresses call to me.

I thought not to do the work I once did, back bending 
and domestic; my schooling a gift--even those half days
at picking time, listening to Miss J--. How 
I'd come to know words, the recitations I practiced 
to sound like her, lilting, my sentences curling up
or trailing off at the ends. I read my books until
I nearly broke their spines, and in the cotton field,
I repeated whole sections I'd learned by heart,
spelling each word in my head to make a picture
I could see, as well as a weight I could feel
in my mouth. So now, even as I write this
and think of you at home, Goodbye

is the waving map of your palm, is 
a stone on my tongue.

Copyright 2002 by Natasha Trethewey. Reprinted from Bellocq's Ophelia with permission of Graywolf Press, Saint Paul, Minnesota. All rights reserved.

Copyright 2002 by Natasha Trethewey. Reprinted from Bellocq's Ophelia with permission of Graywolf Press, Saint Paul, Minnesota. All rights reserved.

Natasha Trethewey

Natasha Trethewey

Natasha Trethewey, who has served as both the state poet laureate of Mississippi and the U.S. poet laureate, received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 2006.

by this poet

poem
Vicksburg, Mississippi


Here, the Mississippi carved
            its mud-dark path, a graveyard

for skeletons of sunken riverboats.
            Here, the river changed its course,

turning away from the city
            as one turns, forgetting, from the past—

the abandoned bluffs, land sloping up
poem
Overhead, pelicans glide in threes—
         their shadows across the sand
                  dark thoughts crossing the mind.

Beyond the fringe of coast, shrimpers
         hoist their nets, weighing the harvest
                  against the day's losses. Light waning,

concentration is a lone gull
poem
—after the painting by Diego Velàzquez, ca. 1619
She is the vessels on the table before her:
the copper pot tipped toward us, the white pitcher
clutched in her hand, the black one edged in red
and upside down. Bent over, she is the mortar
and the pestle at rest in the mortar—still

collected in

collection
Elizabeth Bishop and