This week, Booklist editor Donna Seaman talks with Pulitzer Prize-winner and former U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey about her powerful new memoir Memorial Drive, which recounts the brutal murder of her mother at the hands of her former stepfather and the impact that moment has had on Trethewey’s life and work.
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“This is the situation I was in: a difficult childhood, a tragic loss when I was nineteen. That was the situation, but it took a very long time to figure out what story I had to tell. It wasn’t simply that [my mother] was murdered, it was something else entirely and it’s made up of both what I remember and also the silences, the restraint that allows certain parts to shine through and others to recede into the background.”
“I am a poet because of the deep existential wound of losing my mother. But the kind of poet I am has everything to do with that early childhood, the way that I came to language and metaphor and image and research and even musicality.”
“I’m interested in restorative justice, and I think it’s about remembering that there were all these other forces at work that were perhaps crushing [my stepfather’s] soul, disfiguring it. I had to remember as I wrote about him, that he was a child once.”
“Imagine if instead of all those Confederate monuments all over the South there were monuments to the actual winners of that war, the nearly 200,000 African-American soldiers who fought in it. We would understand ourselves very differently as a nation.”
“It is both a time of so much loss and so much grief. A time for a real need to remember and memorialize the lives that we are constantly losing…I think we’re also having a real reckoning over what we remember and what stories we tell ourselves as a nation. I think we’ll be contending with how we remember this moment for a long time.”