Illinois State Library

Illinois Center for the Book

Individual Author Record

General Information

Name:  Natasha Trethewey  

Pen Name: None

Genre: Poetry

Audience: Adult;

Born: 1966 in Gulfport, Mississippi

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Illinois Connection

Tretheway lives in Evanston.

Biographical and Professional Information

Natasha Trethewey, two-term U.S. Poet Laureate, Pulitzer Prize winner, and 2017 Heinz Award recipient, has written four collections of poetry and one book of nonfiction. An American Academy of Arts and Sciences Fellow, she is currently Board of Trustees Professor of English at Northwestern University.

She has also been inducted into both the Fellowship of Southern Writers and the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame.

Published Works Expand for more information

Titles At Your Library

Monument: Poems New and Selected
ISBN: 132850784X

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2018

Longlisted for the 2018 National Book Award for Poetry

“[Trethewey’s poems] dig beneath the surface of history—personal or communal, from childhood or from a century ago—to explore the human struggles that we all face.” —James H. Billington, 13th Librarian of Congress

Layering joy and urgent defiance—against physical and cultural erasure, against white supremacy whether intangible or graven in stone—Trethewey’s work gives pedestal and witness to unsung icons. Monument, Trethewey’s first retrospective, draws together verse that delineates the stories of working class African American women, a mixed-race prostitute, one of the first black Civil War regiments, mestizo and mulatto figures in Casta paintings, Gulf coast victims of Katrina. Through the collection, inlaid and inextricable, winds the poet’s own family history of trauma and loss, resilience and love.

In this setting, each section, each poem drawn from an “opus of classics both elegant and necessary,”* weaves and interlocks with those that come before and those that follow. As a whole, Monument casts new light on the trauma of our national wounds, our shared history. This is a poet’s remarkable labor to source evidence, persistence, and strength from the past in order to change the very foundation of the vocabulary we use to speak about race, gender, and our collective future.

*Academy of American Poets’ chancellor Marilyn Nelson

Congregation, Poems By Natasha Trethewey
ISBN: 1928755240

William Meredith Foundation/Dryad Press. 2014

The William Meredith Foundation is honored to present the 2014 award for poetry to Natasha Trethewey. Beyond the fact that both poets served at the Library of Congress, the award recognizes a shared aesthetic and level of achievement. When Meredith was writing poems, his goal was that they be "useful," that they speak to audiences "In the heart's duress, on the heart's behalf." For Meredith, poetry is essentially an act of communication in the language of the human tribe, not an exercise in intellectual posturing or exhibitionism. His work is accessible and deceptively simple. He speaks to us with a moral authority and finally, like Trethewey, feels impelled "to offer somebody/uncomprehending, impudent thanks." Congregation is such a document, a "love letter to the Gulf Coast, a praise song, a dirge, invocation and benediction, a requiem for the Gulf Coast." Here are the people of the Mississippi Gulf Coast after Katrina, speaking to her with the folk wisdom, and faith, of the survivor. "Without faith, we is victims," one church marquee proclaims, and another, with a different kind of eloquence, "God is not/ the author of fear." A pilgrim, she returns to the Gulf Coast and her people, but finds home to be "but a cradle of the past." She cannot enter the church service, "standing at the vestibule - neither in, nor out," and can only watch, her face against the glass, attempting to face the things that confront her. By the end of the cycle, however, she has earned the Whitmanesque final line of the poems, "native daughter: I am the Gulf Coast."

Thrall: Poems
ISBN: 0544586204

Mariner Books. 2015

19th Poet Laureate of the United States

“A powerful, beautifully crafted book.”—The Washington Post

“Ripe with the perfidies and paradoxes of thralldom both personal and public, it is utterly elegant.”—Elle

Charting the intersections of public and personal history, Thrall explores the historical, cultural, and social forces that determine the roles to which a mixed-race daughter and her white father are consigned. In a brilliant series of poems about the taxonomies of mixed unions, Natasha Trethewey creates a fluent and vivid backdrop to her own familial predicament. While tropes about captivity, bondage, knowledge, and enthrallment permeate the collection, Trethewey unflinchingly examines our shared past by reflecting on her history of small estrangements and by confronting the complexities of race and the deeply ingrained and unexamined notions of racial difference in America.

“Natasha Trethewey’s Thrall is simply the finest work of her already distinguished career . . . Rarely has any poetic intersection of cultural and personal histories felt more inevitable, more painful, or profound.” —David St. John, author of The Face: A Novella in Verse

“A voice that not only expands the position of [poetry], but helps us better understand ourselves. Her poems tell stories of loss and reckoning, both personal and historical.” —Dr. James Billington, Librarian of Congress

Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast (Sarh Mills Hodge Fund Publications)
ISBN: 0820343110

University of Georgia Press. 2012

Beyond Katrina is poet Natasha Trethewey’s very personal profile of the Mississippi Gulf Coast and of the people there whose lives were forever changed by hurricane Katrina.

Trethewey spent her childhood in Gulfport, where much of her mother’s extended family, including her younger brother, still lives. As she worked to understand the devastation that followed the hurricane, Trethewey found inspiration in Robert Penn Warren’s book Segregation: The Inner Conflict in the South, in which he spoke with southerners about race in the wake of the Brown decision, capturing an event of wide impact from multiple points of view. Weaving her own memories with the experiences of family, friends, and neighbors, Trethewey traces the erosion of local culture and the rising economic dependence on tourism and casinos. She chronicles decades of wetland development that exacerbated the destruction and portrays a Gulf Coast whose citizens―particularly African Americans―were on the margins of American life well before the storm hit. Most poignantly, Trethewey illustrates the destruction of the hurricane through the story of her brother’s efforts to recover what he lost and his subsequent incarceration.

Renowned for writing about the idea of home, Trethewey’s attempt to understand and document the damage to Gulfport started as a series of lectures at the University of Virginia that were subsequently published as essays in the Virginia Quarterly Review. For Beyond Katrina, Trethewey has expanded this work into a narrative that incorporates personal letters, poems, and photographs, offering a moving meditation on the love she holds for her childhood home.

A Sarah Mills Hodge Fund Publication.

Native Guard: Poems
ISBN: 0618872655

Mariner Books. 2007

Through elegiac verse that honors her mother and tells of her own fraught childhood, Natasha Trethewey confronts the racial legacy of her native Deep South -- where one of the first black regiments, the Louisiana Native Guards, was called into service during the Civil War. Trethewey's resonant and beguiling collection is a haunting conversation between personal experience and national history.

Bellocq's Ophelia: Poems
ISBN: 1555973590

Graywolf Press. 2002

Selected as a "2003 Notable Book" by the American Library Association

In the early 1900s, E.J. Bellocq photographed prostitutes in the red-light district of New Orleans. His remarkable, candid photos inspired Natasha Trethewey to imagine the life of Ophelia, the subject of Bellocq's Ophelia, her stunning second collection of poems. With elegant precision, Ophelia tells of her life on display: her white father whose approval she earns by standing very still the brothel Madame who tells her to act like a statue while the gentlemen callers choose and finally the camera, which not only captures her body, but also offers a glimpse into her soul.

Domestic Work: Poems
ISBN: 1555973094

Graywolf Press. 2000

Mississippi native Natasha Trethewey, author of Bellocq's Ophelia and Domestic Work, has been awarded the Grolier Poetry Prize and a Pushcart Prize. Her work was also included in The Best American Poetry 2000. Trethewey now lives in Decatur, Georgia, and is Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Emory University.
Winner of the 1999 Cave Canem Poetry Prize
Winner of the 2001 Lillian Smith Book Award
Winner of the 2001 Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Award

In this widely celebrated debut collection of poems, Natasha Trethewey draws moving domestic portraits of families, past and present, caught in the act of earning a living and managing their households. Small moments taken from a labor-filled day—and rendered here in graceful and readable verse—reveal the equally hard emotional work of memory and forgetting, the extraordinary difficulty of trying to live with or without someone.
"Trethewey's first book, which creates a picture of African-Americans at work, is carefully rendered from old photos, history, and memory with a loving and thoughtful eye. Her work raises one's conscience with the truths inherent in simple word combinations . . . and the care taken in ordering the pieces leads the reader from one poem to the next in graceful order."—Christian Science Monitor

"Trethewey's book puts women's work, and, in particular, black women's work, the hard unpretty background music of our survival, in its proper perspective. For all her meticulous control and subtle perception, this is a revolutionary book that cuts right through to the deepest places in the soul."—Toi Derricotte

"Trethewey's first volume of poems, Domestic Work, marks the addition of a valuable new voice to the varied cacophony of contemporary American poetry."—Oxford American

"In a voice confident, diverse, and directed, Trethewey's Domestic Work does what a first book should, and more."—Ploughshares

"Trethewey's Domestic Work depicts an arresting psychological landscape. Her mirrors sway light and shadow over sharp portraits of people in a world between worlds. Yet, their rituals and obsessions make them like us. Seemingly straightforward and plainly spoken, woven of what dares to sound everyday, these poignant narratives are deceptive as they throw an emotional cast and the reader is beckoned to a place like no other."—Yusef Komunyakaa

"Trethewey's first book uses simple details to create an image of a people and the things that shape their world. The world is accessible, but in itself is not simple. It has beauty to it."—Mid-American Review

"Trethewey's fine first collection functions as near-social documentary . . . Trethewey evenly takes up the difficult task of preserving, and sometimes speculating upon, the people and conditions of the mostly Southern, mostly black working class."—Publishers Weekly

"The plain language and surface simplicity of these poems is deceptive. Their insights into the history and experience of black Americans contain a profound message for all of us . . . [This is] a noteworthy debut by a remarkable young poet."—Kirkus Reviews

"Selected by former poet laureate Rita Dove for the 1999 Cave Canem Poetry Prize, this debut is a marvelously assured collection exploring African-American heritage, civil rights, the work of women, and the sensuous work of the spirit. These exquisite poems are full of individuals who live, hurt, jazz, love, celebrate, sing, and, of course, work with dignity."—Herman Fong, The Odyssey Bookshop (South Hadley, MA)


Sidney Lanier Prize for Southern Literature, 2018

Heinz Award, 2017

United States Poet Laureate, 2012, 2014

Poet Laureate of Mississippi, 2012

Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, 2007

Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Book Prizes, 2001, 2003, 2007

Lillian Smith Book Award, 2001, 2007

Cave Canem Foundation Poetry Prize for "Domestic Work", 1999 - First African American poet to win

Speaking Engagements

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