Poet Laureate, Poetry Expert Speak to Woodward Students

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Former U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey and modern poetry expert Dr. Willard Spiegelman visited Woodward Academy this week to speak to Upper School students.

A professor at Northwestern University and fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Ms. Trethewey served as U.S. Poet Laureate from from 2012 to 2014. She earned a B.A. from the University of Georgia’s Franklin College of Arts and Sciences in 1989, before going getting her M.A. at Hollins College, and an M.F.A. at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

Professor Trethewey was born in 1966 in Gulfport, Mississippi, to an African-American mother and white father at a time when interracial marriage was still against the law in Mississippi. Her chief subjects are history, her family’s and that of the American South, race, and memory.

When she was six years old, her mother, a social worker, and father, a Canadian poet and teacher, divorced. Her mother remarried and later divorced her abusive second husband, who murdered her. Her mother’s death, and the experience of being black and biracial in the Deep South and illegitimate in the eyes of the law when she was born, were the existential wounds that inspired her poetry. “My nation, my South, my Mississippi, inflicted my first wound, but my deeper wound was losing my mother,” she said.

Professor Trethewey was introduced by Dr. Willard Spiegelman, English professor emeritus at Southern Methodist University and one of the nation’s leading authorities on modern poetry. He described her as “one of America’s greatest living poets.” Professor Trethewey and Dr. Spiegelman spoke to AP English, AP Language, and Creativing Writing classes at Woodward before conducting panel discussions for the entire Upper School student body, along with H. Bruce McEver ’62, founder of Berkshire Capital and a poet himself.

Every year, the H. Bruce McEver Visiting Artist Series brings renowned artists to campus to speak to students and sit in on classes with them. You can hear Ms. Trethewey reading her poem, “Elegy,” at Emory University in 2012.

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