Natahsa D. Tretheway
May 2014 Commencement Speaker
Natasha D. Trethewey, America's poet laureate since 2012, is the author of four collections of poetry: "Domestic Work" (2000); "Bellocq’s Ophelia" (2002); "Native Guard" (2006), for which she was awarded the 2007 Pulitzer Prize; and, most recently, "Thrall" (2012). Her work draws on U.S. history, particularly related to the American South and its racial legacy. Her book of nonfiction, Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, was published in 2010.
As poet laureate, Thethewey's signature project is a feature on the PBS NewsHour Poetry Series, titled Where Poetry Lives. In the series, she travels with senior correspondent Jeffrey Brown to cities across the nation to explore societal issues through the lens of poetry, literature and her personal experiences.
She is the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Beinecke Library at Yale, and the Bunting Fellowship Program of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard. She is Robert W. Woodruff Professor of English and Creative Writing at Emory University.
Trethewey earned a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Georgia, a master's degree in English and creative writing from Hollins University and an M.F.A. in poetry from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She was born in Gulfport, Miss. in 1966.
In her address to the class of 2014, Trethewey described her own experiences as a college student. When she was a freshman at the University of Georgia, her mother was killed by her stepfather. Due to her sense of grief and dislocation, she went through college largely “without direction,” sampling courses that interested her. Only later did she discover that her interdisciplinary approach “prepared me for the moment I would recognize what I was meant to do.”
Trethewey told the graduates that “education is a privilege” involving great responsibility. She encouraged the graduates to “question received notions about things” and to cultivate a sense of “historical awareness, civic duty and personal responsibility. Pursue the truth, no matter how uncomfortable it makes you.”
Trethewey received the honorary degree Doctor of Humane Letters from Coastal Carolina University during the May 2014 commencement ceremony.