Poet Natasha Trethewey
I got a little more than I bargained for at an author event Tuesday night at the library. I thought I was going to a simple poetry reading by Natasha Trethewey, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry in 2007 and the U.S. Poet Laureate in 2012 and 2014. Turns out the event was only held at the library but was part of Spalding University's Festival of Contemporary Writing. So not only were there local folks in attendance but also many of the one hundred students in town for the university's Master of Fine Arts in Writing 10-day low-residency program.
As usual, I took a seat in the front row. I have no fear of making eye contact with the speaker. In fact, I look forward to it. Ms. Trethewey was also sitting in the front row (usually an author is sequestered backstage before the event). So before she was introduced and took the stage I was able to snap an up-close photo of her. She was very gracious.
Sena Jeter Nasland introduced the poet. Ms. Nasland lives here in Louisville and is the author of seven novels including Ahab's Wife, Four Spirits, and Abundance: A Novel of Marie Antoinette. She is the program director for the MFA in Writing at Spalding. We are fortunate to have her here.
Ms. Trethewey presented an academic paper titled You are not safe in science; you are not safe in history - a line taken from a lecture given by Robert Frost. The paper - interspersed with readings of her poems - examined the intersection of her personal history and the nation's history. When I tell you that Ms. Trethewey is the daughter of a black woman and a white man and that she grew up in Mississippi in the 1960s and '70s that will give you some idea of the thrust of her theme.
And, the fact that her mother was murdered by her second husband when Ms. Trethewey was a college freshman will also hint at the dark emotions captured during the evening.
Her paper included quotes from writers, historians, and artists (I counted at least 20). Her gentle reading of her own words contrasted sharply with the sometimes disturbing underlying images.
Ms. Trethewey is a brilliant woman with a difficult history. Try as I might, I had no luck putting myself in her shoes.
Like I wrote in the beginning, I got a little more than I bargained for.