Poet Natasha Trethewey’s latest book, “Beyond Katrina,” is a personal account of how the people of the Gulf Coast region, including her family, have lived with the threat and consequences of natural disasters for generations.
“Oddly, not until after Katrina did I come to see that the history of one storm, Camille — and the ever-present possibility of others — helped to define my relationship to the place from which I come,” Trethewey writes.
Through a mix of poetry and prose, the Pulitzer Prize winner explores the experiences of her brother and her grandmother as a way to come to grips with a larger narrative of the Gulf Coast.
Her hometown of Gulf Port, Miss. was ravaged by Katrina. The shotgun houses in the neighborhood where she was born and raised were destroyed.
“There are so many things that haven’t come back,” Trethewey said in a recent phone interview. “There are these big gaps where my own history seems to have vanished. All these buildings that were landmarks of my own past [are] gone.”
Trethewey’s grandmother was also born and raised in the same section of North Gulf Port. She lived through Hurricane Camille, but was forced to leave her home after Katrina and never returned. She died in Atlanta before she had the chance to return to the Gulf.
Her brother Joe had just begun to settle down before Katrina struck. He had refurbished the family’s shotgun houses and managed the properties as rentals. After the storm, they lost the homes and Joe struggled to find work.
“At first, there was nothing to do but watch,” Trethewey writes in her poem, ‘Watcher’. “For days, before the trucks arrived, before the work/ of cleanup, my brother sat on the stoop and watched.”
After the Katrina, Joe’s feelings of listlessness lead to trouble. While Natasha won the Pulitzer Prize for her book “Native Guard,” Joe was arrested for transporting cocaine and sent to prison. His struggles became the inspiration of Trethewey’s latest work.
“The story I knew most intimately, of course, was my brother’s and what was going on in our immediate family,” Trethewey said.
Joe, too, began writing poetry in prison and one of his poems is published in the collection.
Unable to give voice to all of the important stories of all the people who were affected by Katrina, Trethewey hopes that by telling this one it will inspire more stories and more attention for them.
Listen to a conversation with Natasha Trethewey:
Listen to Trethewey read a prose section from “Beyond Katrina:”
Editor’s Note: You can watch a video of Natasha Trethewey reading from “Beyond Katrina” here.