April 23, 2007
Trethewey wins Pulitzer Prize for poetry
by kim urquhart
Native Guard,” the collection of poems that earned Natasha Trethewey the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for poetry, is dedicated to the memory of her mother. “That’s the best part about winning the Pulitzer,” said the associate professor of English. “I wanted ‘Native Guard’ to be a monument to my mother and her life, and I really think that this is one of the biggest monuments I could erect for her.”
The racial legacy of the Civil War echoes through the poignant poems that honor Trethewey’s mother — a black woman who married a white man in an act that was still illegal in 1965 Mississippi — and the forgotten history of her native South. The title poem, set near Trethewey’s hometown of Gulfport, Miss., imagines the life of an ex-slave who joined the Union army to serve in an all-black regiment, the Louisiana Native Guards. In another poem, Trethewey remembers the night her family discovered a burning cross on their lawn. In this way, “Native Guard” explores Trethewey’s own biracial heritage in a region struggling to confront its past.
Trethewey said she plans to apply the Pulitzer award money to her next project, a collection of poems tentatively titled “Thrall.” “I’ll probably also buy something fabulous,” she added with a laugh.
The Pulitzer Prize is the most recent honor for the acclaimed poet. Trethewey’s first poetry collection, “Domestic Work,” won the inaugural 1999 Cave Canem poetry prize, a 2001 Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Book Prize and the 2001 Lillian Smith Award for Poetry.
Her second collection, “Bellocq’s Ophelia,” received the 2003 Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Book Prize, was a finalist for both the Academy of American Poets’ James Laughlin and Lenore Marshall prizes, and was named a 2003 Notable Book by the American Library Association. Her work has appeared in The Best American Poetry 2003 and 2000, and in journals such as Agni, American Poetry Review, Callaloo, Gettysburg Review, Kenyon Review, New England Review and The Southern Review, among others.
Trethewey has a 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. She is the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Bunting Fellowship Program of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University, and the National Endowment for the Arts.
The Creative Writing Department, which Trethewey will direct in the fall, is planning a series of readings by the prize-winning poet this spring. To view Trethewey reading from “Native Guard,” visit www.southernspaces.org.