Natasha Trethewey (born April 26, 1966) is an American poet who was appointed United States Poet Laureate in June 2012; she began her official duties in September. She won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for her 2006 collection Native Guard, and she is the Poet Laureate of Mississippi.
She is the Robert W. Woodruff Professor of English and Creative Writing at Emory University, where she also directs the Creative Writing Program.
Trethewey was born in Gulfport, Mississippi on 26 April 1966, Confederate Memorial Day, to Eric Trethewey and Gwendolyn Ann Turnbough, who were married illegally at the time of her birth, 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”.
Trethewey's mother was part of the inspiration for Native Guard, which is dedicated to her memory. Trethewey's parents divorced when she was young and Turnbough was murdered in 1985 by her second husband, whom she had recently divorced, when Trethewey was 19 years old. Recalling her reaction to her mother's death, she said, "that was the moment when I both felt that I would become a poet and then immediately afterward felt that I would not. I turned to poetry to make sense of what had happened".
Natasha Trethewey's father is also a poet; he is a professor of English at Hollins University.
- 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.