Memorial Drive: A Daughter’s Memoir
By Dan Clendenin
Natasha Trethewey, Memorial Drive: A Daughter’s Memoir (New York: HarperCollins, 2020), 212pp.
When Natasha Tretheway was born in Mississippi on April 26, 1966, it was still illegal for her “colored” mother and white Canadian father to be married, and so her parents eloped to Ohio. As a little girl in the Jim Crow south, she grew up with a “profound sense of dislocation.” Was she black or white? Her grandmother slept with a pistol beneath her pillow. The Klan burned a cross in their driveway. As a “child of miscegenation,” she became an expert in racist epithets.
When she was six, Trethewey and her mother moved to the more progressive Atlanta, but little could they have known that the racist context of Mississippi would be eclipsed by an unimaginable family trauma when a Vietnam veteran named Big Joe entered their lives. For thirty years Trethewey “willed forgetting,” and worked hard to bury the past. After thirty years of suppressing this family trauma, she returned to Atlanta to face her demons. She analyzed her dreams. She read police reports, and listened to tape recordings of telephone calls. At the age of fifty she even consulted a medium, albeit with understandable self-reproach. But this was a “wound that never dies.”
This riveting memoir is Trethewey’s effort to “make sense of our history, to understand the tragic course upon which my mother’s life was set and the way my own life has been shaped by that legacy.” I read it in one half-day binge. The book was an instant best seller, and on numerous “best of 2020” lists (including NPR, NYT, WaPO, and Barack Obama’s). Trethewey was awarded the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for her collection Native Guard, and has been the poet laureate of the United States two times (2012, 2014). Today she is the Board of Trustees Professor of English at Northwestern University.
Dan Clendenin: email@example.com
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