Guernica Magazine

Back Draft: Natasha Trethewey

The acclaimed poet discusses a devastating fire, and the painterly in poetry. The post Back Draft: Natasha Trethewey appeared first on Guernica.

Two-term US Poet Laureate and Pulitzer-Prize Winner Natasha Trethewey has won nearly every major award under the sun. And yet her poems never rest on their laurels, always striving for a sharper examination of the memories our country—particularly the South—might prefer to bury. For Trethewey, racism remains both a national concern and a familial one. In “Repentance,” she details with painterly precision an argument rooted in these historical tensions.

When I spoke with Trethewey over the phone on a frigid November day, she was at a bittersweet moment in her own history. It was the week of the publication of Monument: Poems New and Selected, a powerful testament to her life’s work as a poet. It was also the one-year anniversary of a fire that took a profound toll on her and her family. Before hanging up, Trethewey apologized for rambling. To the contrary, her openness left me awed. There was nothing to forgive.

Ben Purkert for Guernica

Natasha Trethewey: I hope I chose a good poem for this. Well, actually, I didn’t have much of a choice.

Guernica: What do you mean?

Natasha Trethewey: I lost most of my drafts in a fire.

Guernica: Oh no! What happened?

It was last year on Thanksgiving morning. My husband I had just taken jobs at Northwestern, and we had just moved to Evanston, and were having a library

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