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Ford Center for the Fine Arts

Honorary Degree to Natasha Trethewey

June 07, 2014

Citation read by Robin Metz, director of The Program in Creative Writing and Philip Sidney Post Professor of English. 

President Amott, I am honored, and deeply moved, to present for the degree of Doctor of Fine Arts the distinguished poet Natasha Trethewey, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry and nineteenth Poet Laureate of the United States of America.

Born in Gulfport, Mississippi, Natasha Trethewey earned her advanced degrees in poetry from Hollins University and the University of Massachusetts. Her first collection of poetry, Domestic Work, was selected by Rita Dove (who herself received an honorary degree from Knox) as the winner of the inaugural Cave Canem Poetry Prize for the best first book by an African American poet. Natasha Trethewey has subsequently published three more collections of poetry-Bellocq's Ophelia, Thrall, and Native Guard, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. She has also published Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, which is often described as a work of nonfiction, but which, in fact, masterfully weaves both poetry and prose, meteorological history and personal history, into a compelling story of heartbreak and hope. 

As an educator, Natasha Trethewey has taught at Duke University and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. She currently serves as Robert W. Woodruff Professor of English and Creative Writing at Emory University. Among her many awards are fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation, tje Beinecke Library at Yale University, and the Rockefeller Foundation. In 2012, she was named Poet Laureate of the State of Mississippi and the nineteenth Poet Laureate of the United States.

Because Natasha Trethewey has visited Knox in the past, I turn to her and say: Welcome back. And because she will visit Knox again next year to present her work both to the campus and Galesburg communities, I turn to her and say: I can hardly wait. This is an anticipation born out of profound admiration for her art-that is, her exquisite devotion to craft, her serene but boundless compassion for the downtrodden, her unique and exceptional capacity to braid the delicate story of a person's life with the tumultuous and often ravaging currents of history, and not least, her willingness, with courage and steely perseverance, to draw forth from the shadowed margins of societal abuse and neglect the true and dignified lives of our forgotten brothers and sisters, Americans all.

President Amott, in honor of her remarkable contributions to American poetry and to American life, I present Natasha Trethewey for the degree of Doctor of Fine Arts.

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