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Native Guardby Natasha Trethewey
Winner 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry
Synopses & Reviews
Growing up in the Deep South, Natasha Trethewey was never told that in her hometown of Gulfport, Mississippi, black soldiers had played a pivotal role in the Civil War. Off the coast, on Ship Island, stood a fort that had once been a Union prison housing Confederate captives. Protecting the fort was the second regiment of the Louisiana Native Guards — one of the Union's first official black units. Trethewey's new book of poems pays homage to the soldiers who served and whose voices have echoed through her own life.
The title poem imagines the life of a former slave stationed at the fort, who is charged with writing letters home for the illiterate or invalid POWs and his fellow soldiers. Just as he becomes the guard of Ship Island's memory, so Trethewey recalls her own childhood as the daughter of a black woman and a white man. Her parents' marriage was still illegal in 1966 Mississippi. The racial legacy of the Civil War echoes through elegiac poems that honor her own mother and the forgotten history of her native South. Native Guard is haunted by the intersection of national and personal experience.
"Elegiac...eloquently told...profoundly moving...Trethewey is clearly a poet to savor." Maxine Kumin
"In a very few years Natasha Trethewey has created a small body of nearly flawless poetry." Rodney Jones
"[Natasha Tretheway's] voice is a rare, beautiful gift to the reader." William Ferris, Joel R. Williamson Eminent Professor of History, UNC Chapel Hill
"Natasha Trethewey serves our profound need for that rare thing — artistically fine Civil War poetry...She is our Native Guard." David Madden, Louisiana State University, author of Sharpshooter: A Novel of the Civil War
Through elegiac verse that honors her mother and tells of her own fraught childhood, Natasha Trethewey confronts the racial legacy of her native Deep South — where one of the first black regiments, the Louisiana Native Guards, was called into service during the Civil War. Trethewey's resonant and beguiling collection is a haunting conversation between personal experience and national history.
Winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for poetry, Natasha Tretheweys elegiac Native Guard is a deeply personal volume that brings together two legacies of the Deep South.
The title of the collection refers to the Mississippi Native Guards, a black regiment whose role in the Civil War has been largely overlooked by history. As a child in Gulfport, Mississippi, in the 1960s, Trethewey could gaze across the water to the fort on Ship Island where Confederate captives once were guarded by black soldiers serving the Union cause. The racial legacy of the South touched Tretheweys life on a much more immediate level, too. Many of the poems in Native Guard pay loving tribute to her mother, whose marriage to a white man was illegal in her native Mississippi in the 1960s. Years after her mothers tragic death, Trethewey reclaims her memory, just as she reclaims the voices of the black soldiers whose service has been all but forgotten.
About the Author
Natasha Trethewey is the author of Bellocq's Ophelia and of Domestic Work, which was selected by Rita Dove as the inaugural winner of the Cave Canem Poetry Prize. Among her many honors are a Guggenheim fellowship, the Grolier Poetry Prize, and a Pushcart Prize. Her work has been widely published and anthologized, including in The New Young American Poets, Gioia and Kennedy's Introduction to Literature and Introduction to Poetry, the forthcoming Oxford Anthology of African American Poetry, and twice in The Best American Poetry. She is an associate professor of creative writing at Emory University.
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