Natasha Trethewey Visits Colgate for Living Writers Series

Pulitzer Prize winner Natasha Trewethey reflects on her poetry during critical dialogue with Colgate students and faculty.

Deissy Flores

On Thursday, November 3, Pulitzer Prize winner and two-time Poet Laureate for the United States Natasha Trethewey joined Colgate students, professors and Hamilton residents in Love Auditorium to discuss her anthology of poems titled “Thrall.”

The discussion began with an introduction by Associate Professor of English Jennifer Brice, who teaches the class Living Writers. Once on stage, Trethewey informed the crowd that she would be reading poems that she has authored along with other poems that have inspired her work. She first read poetry from her book “Native Guard”, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 2007. 

Brice noted her awe of and passion for Trethewey’s poetry.

“I think she has a wonderful gift for connecting with her students and her audience and she has a beautiful reading style. Her poems were confessional and revelatory, but as she said many of them were written in form,” Brice said.

Brice also shed light on the process of bringing Trethewey to Colgate.

“Bringing her was Peter Balakian’s suggestion, my colleague who teaches poetry. We were all pretty excited by her work. She is a towering figure in American literature and an important voice,” Brice said. “Also, she is a woman whose poetry urges us to think critically and acknowledge prejudices and stereotypes.”

During her discussion in Love Auditorium, Trethewey addressed her two greatest struggles throughout her life. She first spoke about her birth and how it was a wound, since she was born when the miscegenation law was still in effect in Mississippi. These laws mandated criminalization of interracial marriage and sexual relations between members of different races. 

She then discussed the death of her mother, who was murdered by her stepfather. Trethewey explained that this tragedy is what allows her to write

her poems.

Junior Amelia Poole, a student in the Living Writers course, gave her impression of Trethewey and her opinion regarding her poems.

“I thought she was extremely well spoken and I really like the way she was able to integrate history, identity and poetry with very effective use of language,” Poole said. “I thought her poetry was very unique and not much of it has been said about her topics before.” 

Poole also said she was inspired by Trethewey’s poetry.

“As a creative writer, I think that a lot of the time I fall victim to staying within the confines of traditional poetry. The poetry has inspired me to look to different subjects to integrate into poetry,” Poole said. “She does such a great job integrating history, so there’s definitely a lot of room for me to kind of pull in different interests into my poetry rather than just what directly influences my life.”

The discussion concluded with some questions posed at Trethewey, during which she discussed her earliest memories of her childhood and how she hopes to include it in her memoir. 

She then talked about how religion also influenced her poems. Her last remarks included discussing her mother and her father’s relationship and how skin color and race had always impacted her family.

Senior Olivia Miller elaborated on her own impression of Trethewey.

“She’s cool,” Miller said. “I thought she was really eloquent and I thought she seemed really strong and confident in herself, which I admired a lot, and I really enjoyed her poetry.”