Natasha Trethewey was born on April 26, 1966, in Gulfport, Mississippi. She earned an MA in poetry from Hollins University and an MFA in poetry from the University of Massachusetts.
Trethewey’s first collection of poetry, Domestic Work (Graywolf Press, 2000), was selected by Rita Dove as the winner of the inaugural Cave Canem Poetry Prize for the best first book by an African American poet, and won both the 2001 Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Book Prize and the 2001 Lillian Smith Award for Poetry. She is also the author of Memorial Drive: A Daughter’s Memoir (HarperCollins, 2020); Monument: Poems New and Selected (Houghton Mifflin, 2018), which was long-listed for the 2018 National Book Award in Poetry; Thrall (Houghton Mifflin, 2012); Native Guard (Houghton Mifflin, 2006), which received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry; and Bellocq’s Ophelia (Graywolf Press, 2002).
In her introduction to Domestic Work, Dove said,
Trethewey eschews the Polaroid instant, choosing to render the unsuspecting yearnings and tremulous hopes that accompany our most private thoughts—reclaiming for us that interior life where the true self flourishes and to which we return, in solitary reverie, for strength.
Natasha Trethewey’s poems plumb personal and national history to meditate on the conundrum of American racial identities. Whether writing of her complex family torn by tragic loss, or in diverse imagined voices from the more distant past, Trethewey encourages us to reflect, learn, and experience delight. The wide scope of her interests and her adept handling of form have created an opus of classics both elegant and necessary.
Trethewey’s other honors include the Bunting Fellowship from the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Beinecke Library at Yale.
In 2012, Trethewey was named as both the state poet laureate of Mississippi and the nineteenth U.S. poet laureate by the Library of Congress. In 2013, she was appointed for a second term, during which she traveled to cities and towns across the country, meeting with the general public to seek out the many ways poetry lives in American communities, and reported on her discoveries in a regular feature on the PBS News Hour Poetry Series. She was succeeded in 2014 by Charles Wright. She was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2013 and received the Heinz Award for Arts and Humanities in 2017. In 2019, she was named a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
Trethewey was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2019. On this occasion, Academy Chancellor David St. John says Trethewey “is one of our formal masters, a poet of exquisite delicacy and poise who is always unveiling the racial and historical inequities of our country and the ongoing personal expense of these injustices. Rarely has any poetic intersection of cultural and personal experience felt more inevitable, more painful, or profound.” In 2019, she was inducted into the American Academy of Arts And Sciences. She is also the recipient of the 2020 Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize for lifetime achievement in poetry.
Trethewey is the Board of Trustees Professor of English at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.