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In the News

A Heartbreaking Ride Down Memorial Drive

August 5, 2020
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At age nineteen, Natasha Trethewey had her world turned upside down when her former stepfather shot and killed her mother. Grieving and still new to adulthood, she confronted the twin pulls of life and death in the aftermath of unimaginable trauma and now explores the way this experience lastingly shaped the artist she became. In her memoir Memorial Drive, Trethewey explores how much the taking of her mother's beautiful life changed her own.

During her recent Fresh Air interview on NPR, Trethewey discusses how she ran into a police officer in 2005. He was one of the first to arrive on the scene with her mother, and almost twenty-years later he still recognized her. He offered to give her the expunged police records on her mother's murder, and this became a "mixed blessing after so many years of trying to forget." It was the catalyst that opened her eyes from the "willed amnesia" she had been living in after losing her mother.

With penetrating insight and a searing voice that moves from the wrenching to the elegiac, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Natasha Trethewey explores this profound experience of pain, loss, and grief as an entry point into understanding the tragic course of her mother's life and the way her own life has been shaped by a legacy of fierce love and resilience. Moving through her mother's history in the deeply segregated South and through her own girlhood as a "child of miscegenation" in Mississippi, Trethewey plumbs her sense of dislocation and displacement in the lead-up to the harrowing crime that took place on Memorial Drive in Atlanta in 1985.

Memorial Drive is a compelling and searching look at a shared human experience of sudden loss and absence but also a piercing glimpse at the enduring ripple effects of  racism and domestic abuse. Her mother's run from her abusive stepfather and Trethewey's own experience with him. When she discovered he'd been granted parole, she wrote a poem called "Letter to Inmate." In it, she writes, "What does it mean to be safe in the world? Everywhere I go, she is with me — my long dead mother. Is there nowhere I might go and not find you there too?" For, "even if he's not physically here, there is a way that the past enters my life. All of it. Then I carry it with me."

Animated by unforgettable prose and inflected by a poet's attention to language, this is a luminous, urgent, and visceral memoir from one of our most important contemporary writers and thinkers.

Fresh Air

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