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Pulitzer Prize Winner Trethewey Discusses Poetry Collection

Natasha Trethewey recently won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry for her work about black Civil War soldiers on the Mississippi coast. She discusses the collection, as well as her personal ties to the Gulf Coast.

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  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    "Truth be told, I do not want to forget anything of my former life." Those are the first words of a poem called "Native Guard," about a group of ex-slaves who fought in the Civil War.

    There's a great deal of remembering personal and collective history in the book that has won this year's Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, also called "Native Guard." The author is Natasha Trethewey. This is her third volume of poetry. She teaches creative writing at Emory University.

    And congratulations to you.

  • NATASHA TRETHEWEY, Poet:

    Thank you.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Why explore history? What are you trying to do?

  • NATASHA TRETHEWEY:

    Well, for a long time, I've been interested in cultural memory and historical erasure.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Erasure?

  • NATASHA TRETHEWEY:

    Erasure, those things that get left out of the landscape of the physical landscape, things that aren't monumented or memorialized, and how we remember and what it is that we forget. I wanted to kind of restore some of those narratives, so those things that are less remembered.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    And the particular story of the "Native Guard," the group I referred to, how did you come to that?

  • NATASHA TRETHEWEY:

    Well, I used to go out on the island every summer for the Fourth of July with my grandmother and tour the fort.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    This is off the coast of Mississippi?

  • NATASHA TRETHEWEY:

    It's just off the coast of Gulfport.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Ah, Gulfport.

  • NATASHA TRETHEWEY:

    That's right. And there's a fort out there. And the Daughters of the Confederacy has placed a plaque that mentions all the names of the Confederate soldiers, but there's not a similar monument listing the names of the Union black soldiers that were there. And I started to wonder why that part wasn't acknowledged on that island, and I wanted to tell a fuller version of the story.

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