An Interview with Natasha Trethewey

Building a Monument: An Interview with Natasha Trethewey
Lauren LeBlanc, November 15, 2018, The Paris Review



Two-term national Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize–winner Natasha Trethewey was born in her mother’s hometown, Gulfport, Mississippi, on April 26, 1966. The daughter of Eric Trethewey and Gwendolyn Ann Turnbough, an interracial couple who traveled from Kentucky to Ohio in order to be legally married, Trethewey shares her birthday with Confederate Memorial Day. I was previously unaware of the holiday, which is still celebrated across the South to commemorate the deaths of Confederate soldiers. Upon the inauguration of Barack Obama, pundits announced we had entered a postracial era. 

Roughly a decade later, it is easy to say that white supremacy is stronger than it’s been since the civil rights movement. 

Talking with Trethewey on the phone, we noted the different ways that signals and symbols of white supremacy—beyond the obvious statues and memorials—continue to stand in plain sight. We are both daughters of the Deep South, and we discussed the old department stores that once lined Canal Street in New Orleans, such as Maison Blanche. Remarking on a Washington Post review of a John Grisham novel, Trethewey said, “One thing he mentions is a dismissal that I hear, too. You write about race. Aren’t there larger or more important subjects to write about? But this reviewer said that Mississippi writers in different genres all write about race because not writing about race in Mississippi is like writers from Arizona not writing about the desert. How can I not?”

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absolute power depends on absolute control over knowledge, which in turn necessitates absolute corruption

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“Politicians, Priests, and psychiatrists often face the same problem: how to find the most rapid and permanent means of changing a man’s belief…The problem of the doctor and his nervously ill patient, and that of the religious leader who sets out to gain and hold new converts, has now become the problem of whole groups of nations, who wish not only to confirm certain political beliefs within their boundaries, but to proselytize the outside world.” – William Sargant “Battle of the Mind”

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