Emory’s Manuscript Archives and Rare Book Library (MARBL) now houses the letters, prewritten works and early writings of former U.S. Poet Laureate and Robert W. Woodruff Professor of English and Creative Writing Natasha Trethewey, according to MARBL director Rosemary Magee.
The placement of the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and Emory Creative Writing Program director’s archives at The Raymond Danowski Poetry Library “was part of a continuing discussion we’ve been having with her for the past couple of years,” Magee said. “It’s very beneficial to MARBL.”
Students and researchers can access Trethewey’s archives on the seventh floor MARBL reading room by making an online appointment 24 hours in advance.
Though Trethewey was not available for comment by press time, Magee said she most likely chose Emory from among a multitude of options for storing her work nationwide.
In a University press release statement, Trethewey said she based her decision on the fact that “Emory has been for me an intellectual home, and I am delighted to join the community of writers included in MARBL’s fine collections.”
That community of writers in The Raymond Danowski Library, a collection within MARBL, includes W. B. Yeats, Alice Walker, Seamus Heaney, Lucille Clifton and Ted Hughes, among others.
“[The archive] clinches her place among the leading voices in modern poetry already housed there,” Professor and Chair of the Emory Department of English Walter Kalaidjian wrote in an email to the Wheel. “Speaking on behalf of my English department colleagues, we are all thrilled and delighted with her decision.”
Trethewey’s drafts, manuscripts, project proposals, letters, proofs and final copies of her published work are now under the same roof as an 1855 signed first edition of Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass,” among other rare documents.
Photographs of her and those close to her have joined limited editions by Langston Hughes, with corrections by his own hand.
Her personal letters – some written by her to friends and family, others written to her by government officials and other writers – joined a 1917 first edition of T.S. Eliot’s “Prufrock and Other Observations.”
“Researchers and undergraduate students alike will benefit from the ability to see Trethewey’s writing process as she planned and drew inspiration for her work,” Magee said.
“I think [her archive] really contributes to Emory’s national and international stature,” she said, adding that the collection strengthens the connection between the renowned poet and the university at which she teaches and thus, could draw more poetry researchers to Emory from across the globe. “We have one of the most outstanding collections of poetry – a place that intellectuals and scholarly people will want to be associated with.”
In addition to her connection to Emory, Trethewey, who served as the 19th U.S. Poet Laureate for two terms from 2012 to 2014, has a long-standing connection to the South and its history, which are often major themes of her writings.
Like the writings of Alice Walker and of Lucille Clifton, Kalaidjian wrote, “Trethewey’s archive makes a key and unflinching contribution to the rich heritage of African-American testimony, witnessing both personally and politically the ongoing struggle for civil rights in the United States.”
Trethewey has published four books of poetry: “Domestic Work” (2000), a collection of portraits of working-class families; “Bellocq’s Ophelia” (2002), which centers on the life of a New Orleans prostitute; Pulitzer Prize-winning “Native Guard” (2006), about a black regiment in the Civil War; and “Thrall” (2012), a series of meditations on predominantly focused race history in America.
In 2010, she published the nonfiction personal profile “Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast,” about the aftermath of the hurricane that laid waste to her childhood home in Gulfport, Miss., and much of the surrounding region.
Along with receiving the Pulitzer Prize, Trethewey was named Georgia Woman of the Year in 2008, inducted into the Fellowship of Southern Writers in 2009, inducted into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame in 2011 and named a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2013.
– By Lydia O’Neal