Pulitzer Prize-Winning Poet to Receive Honorary UC Doctorate

Pulitzer Prize-winner Natasha Trethewey will receive an honorary doctorate during the University of Cincinnati’s Commencement ceremony Dec. 10. A U.S. Poet Laureate, Trethewey will be presented an Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts.

Trethewey served two terms as the 19th Poet Laureate of the United States (2012-14). In his citation, Librarian of Congress James Billington wrote, “Her poems dig beneath the surface of history—personal or communal, from childhood or from a century ago—to explore the human struggles that we all face.” Her most recent collection is “Thrall” (2012): exploring her own interracial and complicated roots she is inspired by everything from colonial paintings of mulattos and mestizos to the stories of people forgotten by history. Meditations on captivity, knowledge, and inheritance permeate Thrall, as she reflects on a series of small estrangements from her poet father and comes to an understanding of how, as father and daughter, they are part of the ongoing history of race in America. Her other collections are “Native Guard” (Houghton Mifflin), for which she won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize; “Bellocq’s Ophelia” (Graywolf, 2002), which was named a Notable Book for 2003 by the American Library Association; and “Domestic Work” (Graywolf, 2000), which was selected by Rita Dove as the winner of the inaugural Cave Canem Poetry Prize for the best first book by an African-American poet and won both the 2001 Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Book Prize and the 2001 Lillian Smith Award for Poetry. Trethewey is also the author of the prose book “Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast” (University of Georgia Press). A memoir is forthcoming in 2017.

Among her many honors, Trethewey is the recipient of the 2016 Academy of American Poets Fellowship which recognizes distinguished poetic achievement. In the judge’s citation, Marilyn Nelson said: “Natasha Trethewey’s poems plumb personal and national history to meditate on the conundrum of American racial identities. Whether writing of her complex family torn by tragic loss, or in diverse imagined voices from the more distant past, Trethewey encourages us to reflect, learn and experience delight. The wide scope of her interests and her adept handling of form have created an opus of classics both elegant and necessary.” Trethewey has also received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Study Center, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Bunting Fellowship Program of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard. In 2013 she was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Her poems have appeared in such journals and anthologies as American Poetry Review, Callaloo, Kenyon Review, The Southern Review, New England Review, Gettysburg Review and several volumes of “Best American Poetry.” At Emory University she is Robert W. Woodruff Professor of English and Creative Writing.

In her second term as United States Poet Laureate, Trethewey’s signature project was a PBS NewsHour Poetry Series, “Where Poetry Lives.” In this series, Trethewey traveled with Senior Correspondent Jeffrey Brown to cities across the United States in order to explore societal issues such as Alzheimer’s, domestic abuse, the civil rights movement, and incarcerated teenagers—all through the prism of poetry, literature, and Trethewey’s own personal experiences.

In addition to being U.S. Poet Laureate, she held the position of State Poet Laureate of Mississippi, from 2012-2016.

Trethewey is one of two recipients of honorary degrees at fall Commencement. The honorary degree is the highest award the university bestows. James E. Schwab, a longtime member of the UC Foundation Board of Trustees and the former president and chief executive officer of Greater Cincinnati nonprofit Interact for Health, will receive the other award.

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