U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey coming to ECU for reading

Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Natasha Trethewey, the United States Poet Laureate, will visit East Carolina University Oct. 25 as part of the university’s Contemporary Writers Series. She is the author of four poetry collections and a book of creative non-fiction.

ECU English associate professor John Hoppenthaler will lead a question and answer session with Trethewey at 1 p.m. at The Greenville Museum of Art; she will also give a public reading of her work at 8 p.m. in A.J. Fletcher Recital Hall on campus. Her books will be available for purchase at both events, which are free and open the public. Tickets for the public reading on campus are available through the ECU Central Ticket Office, 328-4788.

Trethewey is the first poet laureate from the South since 1986, when Robert Penn Warren was appointed by the Library of Congress.

After hearing her read at the National Book Festival in Washington, D.C., Librarian of Congress James Billington chose Trethewey as poet laureate because her work “explores forgotten history and the many human tragedies of the Civil War.”

It’s a “happy coincidence,” Billington said, “that Trethewey was chosen during the 150th anniversary of the war between the states. She’s taking us into history that was never written. She takes the greatest human tragedy in American history — the Civil War, 650,000 people killed, the most destructive war of human life for a century — and she takes us inside without preaching.”

Natasha Trethewey

In his citation, Billington wrote, “Her 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.”
Trethewey was born in Gulfport, Miss., to parents who were illegally married at the time of her birth in 1966 – 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.” Her mother was part of the inspiration for “Native Guard,” published in 2007, for which Trethewey received the Pulitzer Prize; the work is dedicated to her mother’s memory.

Her latest book “Thrall,” published earlier this year, explores the historical, cultural and social forces across time and space that determine the roles consigned to a mixed-race daughter and her white father.
ECU faculty member Hoppenthaler, who is a friend of Tretheway, said he is delighted to have her return to campus. She visited the ECU campus in 2007.

“Every time we seem lulled into thinking that finally we have come to some post-racial place in American history, our pretty little soap bubbles pop, and we find that perhaps there is no such thing as post-racial,” said Hoppenthaler.

“Her major project as a writer, that of reinscribing that which has been erased whether accidentally or intentionally from the public record, is the most valuable sort of project any writer can undertake. … Couched in clear, concisely focused language in the personal drama of loss, Trethewey’s poems are among the most crucial being written today,” he said.

Tom Douglass, who is also an English Department faculty member and a member of the Contemporary Writer’s Series committee, said it’s great luck to have Trethewey coming to campus during her term as poet laureate. She follows Philip Levine as poet laureate. Levine visited the ECU campus as part of the Contemporary Writers’ Series in late April near the end of his appointment.

“We invited her in 2007 and two weeks later, she won the Pulitzer Prize. For this visit, we invited her earlier this year, and two weeks later she was named poet laureate,” he said. Douglass added this is another wonderful opportunity for ECU students to speak with a working poet.

Trethewey is also the author of “Bellocq’s Ophelia” (Graywolf, 2002), which was named a Notable Book for 2003 by the American Library Association, “Domestic Work” (Graywolf, 2000), and “Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast” (University of Georgia Press, 2010). A memoir is forthcoming in 2013.

For more information about Trethewey’s visit, contact Tom Douglass at 252-328-6723 or John Hoppenthaler at 252-328-5562.