Incoming Students Assigned Poetry on the South
NORTHAMPTON, Mass.—Smith College assigned Natasha Trethewey’s Pulitzer Prize-winning volume of poetry exploring the complex memory of the history of the American South to all incoming students.
Trethewey’s book, titled “Native Guard” and published in 2006, seeks to create a lyrical memorial to the often overlooked Native Guard, one of the first black regiments assembled in the Civil War.
Interwoven in the volume, her third collection, are poems honoring Trethewey’s late mother and recalling her parents’ interracial marriage, which was illegal when she was born in 1966 in Mississippi.
“As a child, I was acutely aware of people staring at me,” Trethewey told the New York Times last year. “I have been asked all my life ‘What are you?’ My mother was black, and my father is white.”
As part of their orientation to Smith, students will gather among their new housemates on campus Tuesday, September 2, in groups led by faculty members and administrators, to discuss the summer reading assignment. That evening, they will hear Trethewey read from her volume beginning at 7:30 p.m. in Sweeney Concert Hall.
In her hometown of Gulfport, Miss., a plaque honors Confederate prisoners of war, but there is no memorial to Union soldiers. “In the South, a lot of times the history that is around us is a Confederate history,” Trethewey noted in the New York Times. “You might think the South actually won the war because of all the monuments.”
Trethewey earned a bachelor’s degree in English at the University of Georgia, a master’s degree in English and creative writing from Hollins University—where her father, the poet Eric Trethewey is a professor of literature—and a master’s of fine arts in poetry from the University of Massachusetts.
She is currently professor of English at Emory University where she holds the Phillis Wheatley Distinguished Chair in Poetry. Trethewey has also taught at Auburn University, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and Duke University, where she was the 2005-2006 Lehman Brady Joint Chair Professor of Documentary and American Studies.
Throughout her career, Trethewey has received numerous awards including the American Library Association’s Notable Book award in 2003 for “Bellocq’s Ophelia.” Her collection of poetry, titled “Domestic Work,” also won the Cave Canem Poetry Prize for the best first book by an African American. She is the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Study Center, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Bunting Fellowship Program of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard. Her poems have been widely published in poetry journals and anthologies.
Smith College is the largest undergraduate women’s college in the country, enrolling 2,800 students from nearly every state and 61 other countries. Smith educates women of promise for lives of distinction. By linking the power of the liberal arts to excellence in research and scholarship, Smith is developing leaders for society’s challenges.