Poet laureate reads to App State students


Mayesivy Carlson

Former Poet Laureate Natasha Tretheway reads the prologue and various selections from her memoir Memorial Drive on April 21, 2023.

Abby Buckner, Associate A&C Editor

The Blue Ridge Ballroom flooded with a mixture of students, professors and poets eager to experience the artful words of the Pulitzer Prize winning 19th Poet Laureate of the United States Natasha Trethewey. The Hughlene Bostian Frank Visiting Writers Series brought Trethewey to give a reading of excerpts from a few of her most famous works Thursday in the Plemmons Student Union.

 Among the crowd was senior English literature major Tiffany Green, who was chosen to deliver an introduction to Trethewey before the reading began.

“The preparation was mostly a lot of practicing with my professors and in front of my classes to get comfortable,” Green said. “I was able to take some helpful constructive criticism that way.”

Green had a conversation with Trethewey prior to taking the podium, where they discussed different inspirations and bonded over a mutual love and fascination with Greek mythology. Green also had the opportunity to share examples of her own personal poetry with Trethewey.

“She told me she liked my work, which was such an incredible compliment coming from her,” Green said.

After Green’s introduction, Trethewey took the stage and captivated the audience’s attention by presenting readings from her memoir “Monument,” which explores the topic of gender and race inequality and her experience growing up as a mixed child in America, as well as readings from “Memorial Drive,” which shared personal memories of Trethewey’s mother, who was murdered in 1985. 

During a short Q&A section, one audience member inquired about Trethewey’s thoughts on political figures in the U.S. that could try to silence her story. 

“It makes me all the more determined to tell it,” Tretheway said after a short pause. “If my mother who passed away in 1985 were to see where we are now as a country, she would be disappointed, and that hurts.”

Trethewy talked about how important poetry and literature has been to her all her life. Her late father, an accomplished poet and English professor at Hollins, instilled a love of stories in her as a child. 

“Poetry can deal with the problems that can be hard to face,” Trethewey said. “To those who will listen, it teaches intellect, but also empathy.”

Trethewey offered authentic transparency about her and her family’s history and the struggles she has faced in her readings, speaking calmly yet with a rumbling power that sparked through the ballroom and was felt by all, said senior creative writing major Jean Holman.

“I really enjoyed her whole reading and hearing how clearly she spoke about racism. It’s crazy that it’s still a problem that exists,” Holman said. “I love poetry and fiction, so it’s amazing to hear this topic addressed in her own creative language.”

English professor Mark Powell expressed his appreciation for Trethewey and her reading.

“Trethewey’s honesty and grace handling difficult questions was remarkable,” Powell said. “She has such elegant command.”

Powell shared various details about the process of organizing these events every year. Through on and off-campus collaborations, they are able to bring in authors and poets from around the country to App State.

“We do this series every year, and by pairing with Schaefer Presents this year, we were able to shoot for the stars and land some of the best,” Powell said. 

Tretheway’s visit was the third of four total events in The Visiting Writers Series. The final event will be a reading from poet Nickole Brown April 27 from 6-7:30 p.m. for the final reading of the semester.