Memorial Drive: A Daughter's Memoir (Hardcover)
August 2020 Indie Next List
“Natasha Trethewey was 19 when her mother was murdered by her stepfather in 1985. For decades, she hid the event, and memories of her mother, in the recesses of her mind while she went on to win a Pulitzer Prize and become the Poet Laureate of the United States. Now, decades later, she opens herself up to her past to produce a harrowing yet beautiful memorial.”
— Mike Hare, Northshire Saratoga, Saratoga Springs, NY
An Instant New York Times Bestseller
A Washington Post Top 10 Best Book of 2020
An Amazon Best Book of 2020
A New York Times Notable Book
A chillingly personal and exquisitely wrought memoir of a daughter reckoning with the brutal murder of her mother at the hands of her former stepfather, and the moving, intimate story of a poet coming into her own in the wake of a tragedy
At age nineteen, Natasha Trethewey had her world turned upside down when her former stepfather shot and killed her mother. Grieving and still new to adulthood, she confronted the twin pulls of life and death in the aftermath of unimaginable trauma and now explores the way this experience lastingly shaped the artist she became.
With penetrating insight and a searing voice that moves from the wrenching to the elegiac, Pulitzer Prize–winning poet Natasha Trethewey explores this profound experience of pain, loss, and grief as an entry point into understanding the tragic course of her mother’s life and the way her own life has been shaped by a legacy of fierce love and resilience. Moving through her mother’s history in the deeply segregated South and through her own girlhood as a “child of miscegenation” in Mississippi, Trethewey plumbs her sense of dislocation and displacement in the lead-up to the harrowing crime that took place on Memorial Drive in Atlanta in 1985.
Memorial Drive is a compelling and searching look at a shared human experience of sudden loss and absence but also a piercing glimpse at the enduring ripple effects of white racism and domestic abuse. Animated by unforgettable prose and inflected by a poet’s attention to language, this is a luminous, urgent, and visceral memoir from one of our most important contemporary writers and thinkers.
About the Author
Natasha Trethewey is a former US poet laureate and the author of five collections of poetry, as well as a book of creative nonfiction. She is currently the Board of Trustees Professor of English at Northwestern University. In 2007 she won the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for her collection Native Guard.
"A luminous and searing work.... In the end, we stand with Trethewey’s grief, feeling it as friends rather than voyeurs. That is perhaps what makes this book both so timely and timeless. The lonely death, the personal tragedy, haunts our daily living now more than ever. Even the sweetest moments of progress seem to always be marked by unimaginable loss. Memorial Drive answers the question: How we might manage it."
— Boston Globe
"I’ve not read an American memoir where more happens in the assemblage of language..Memorial Drive forces the reader to think about how the sublime Southern conjurers of words, spaces, sounds and patterns protect themselves from trauma when trauma may be, in part, what nudged them down the dusty road to poetic mastery...The more virtuosic our ability to use language to probe, the harder it becomes to protect ourselves from the secrets buried in our — and our nation’s — marrow. This is the conundrum and the blessing of the poet. This is the conundrum and blessing of Memorial Drive."
— New York Times Book Review
“Alternately beautiful and devastating.”
— Washington Post
"Nothing [Trethewey] has written drills down into her past, and her family’s, as powerfully as Memorial Drive. It is a controlled burn of chaos and intellection; it is a memoir that will really lay you out.... This is a book with a slow, steady build. This is restraint in service to release....Even though you intuit what is coming, the moment you learn of Gwendolyn’s death is as stunning as the moment when Anna Magnani is shot in the street in Roberto Rossellini’s Rome, Open City."
— New York Times
"In Memorial Drive, Natasha Trethewey has transformed unimaginable tragedy into a work of sublimity. There’s sorrow and heartbreak, yes, but also a beautiful portrait of a mother and her daughter’s enduring love. Trethewey writes elegantly, trenchantly, intimately as well about the fraught history of the south and what it means live at the intersection of America’s struggle between blackness and whiteness. And what, in our troubled republic, is a subject more evergreen?"
— Mitchell S. Jackson, author of Survival Math
“Haunting, powerful, and painfully stunning, Memorial Drive is one of the best memoirs I've read in a long time. A brilliant storyteller, Trethewey writes the unimaginable truth with a clear-eyed courage that proves, once again, that she's one of the nation's best writers.”
— Ada Limón, author of Bright Dead Things and NBCC award-winner The Carrying
"Beautifully composed, achingly sad...This profound story of the horrors of domestic abuse and a daughter’s eternal love for her mother will linger long after the book’s last page is turned."
— Publishers Weekly
"[A] graceful, moving memoir...Delicate prose distinguishes a narrative of tragedy and grief."
— Kirkus Reviews
"A moving, heartbreaking memoir about a traumatic event and the path to healing."
— Library Journal
“Natasha Trethewey has composed a riveting memoir that reads like a detective story about her mother’s murder by a malevolent ex-husband. It reads with all the poise and clarity of Trethewey’s unforgettable poetry—heartrending without a trace of pathos, wise and smart at once, unforgettable. The short section her mother penned as she was trying to escape the marriage moved me to tears. I read the book in one gulp and expect to reread it more than once. A must-read classic.”
— Mary Karr, author of The Liars' Club; Cherry; and Lit
“This is a dedication and memorial to a Black woman’s survival through racist and misogynist territory to lovingly raise a family."
— Electric Literature
"A former U.S. poet laureate, Natasha Trethewey brings her mastery of language to this tough, lyrical account of a daughter entering the adult world while dealing with the brutal murder of her mother."
— Entertainment Weekly
"This heartbreaking but ultimately triumphant memoir explores the long-buried past Trethewey fought to forget and the cruel, powerful forces of domestic abuse and racism."
— Town & Country
“Former U.S. Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner Natasha Trethewey contemplates the traumas of her youth in her aching new memoir. . . . Fixating on her mother’s past as well as her own, Trethewey constructs a moving reflection on racism, abuse and trauma.“
"Part coming-of-age, part true crime story, Memorial Drive is the memoir of Pulitzer Prize winner and former U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey, a heartbreaking tale of domestic abuse and the story of Trethewey’s mother who is brutally murdered by her ex-stepfather. She returns to the years she once buried, narrating tragedy and unearthing pain along the way."
"A wrenching prose account of loss. . . . Relying on memory, case documents, & transcripts of recorded phone conversations . . . Trethewey offers a gutting depiction of domestic violence. This book is not an easy read, but it is an illuminating one."
"A precise, piercing memoir that explores unimaginable loss, grief, rage, and resilience. . . . [A] visceral, haunting book. . . . Trethewey is unflinching in her depiction of the horrors of domestic abuse—and in the power of the love between a mother and child."
— Refinery 29
"Trethewey, the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and former US Poet Laureate, uses her consummate literary skills to craft this heart-rending account . . . A tragic tale, told with clarity and shattering insight."
"[Trethewey's] celebrated linguistic talent is evident. . . . What’s most remarkable here is Trethewey’s storytelling abilities as she forges a gripping narrative of a woman coming to terms with her trauma."
— Chicago Magazine
“Stunning . . . As Trethewey revisits her past, she again turns on a light in the darkest of corners, piecing together the memories of her childhood and her mother’s death at the hands of her former stepfather. Her pain still feels primal, but the poet confronts shadows to reveal, as she writes, “the story I tell myself to survive.”
— Garden & Gun
"Trethewey brilliantly explores how her upbringing and her mother’s murder shaped her into the artist she is today."
— Deep South Magazine
“In Memorial Drive, [Trethewey] explores the loss and lingering grief that has shaped so much of her work. Trethewey’s heartbreakingly beautiful memoir honors her mother, Gwendolyn, while also indicting a culture that fails to protect abuse victims as they try to retrieve their lives from the clutches of their abusers."
— Bitch Magazine
"[An] astonishing, gripping memoir. . . .Memorial Drive is the story of how a mind can be made by love and rupture in equal measure, and how—growing up—poetry, composing herself, became the way for Trethewey to restore the former by building a bridge over the latter. . . . This is work of immense dignity and sorrow, a psalm to a past forever gone, and a vivid glimpse of a writer tangling with her demons in plain sight in hopes others like her might feel less alone with theirs."
"Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Natasha Trethewey turns her gift for storytelling to a memoir in this slim, elegant account of her mother’s murder and all that transpired after it, including how the author transformed the pain of her loss and a life steeped in racism into words that transcend hatred and violence to uplift others."
— Atlanta Journal-Constitution
"Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Natasha Trethewey explores the trauma of her mother’s murder in a memoir poet Mary Karr calls 'heartrending without a trace of pathos.' Trethewey’s mother was shot to death in 1985 in Atlanta by the author’s abusive stepfather. Trethewey, a former U.S. poet laureate, sketches a portrait of her mother’s life in the South as she considers the enduring influence of her love as well as the vicious effects of domestic violence, racism and sudden loss."
— Boston Herald
"[Trethewey's] memoir tells the tragic, moving story of her journey out of the pit of grief and into her role as one of America’s most celebrated artists."
"Natasha Trethewey’s forthcoming memoir Memorial Drive just bowled me over. Is it the best true crime memoir I’ve read? It’s certainly in my upper echelon now."
— Sarah Weinman, Crime Lady newsletter
"A work of exquisitely distilled anguish and elegiac drama . . . Through finely honed, evermore harrowing memories, dreams, visions, and musings, Trethewey maps the inexorable path to her mother’s murder. . . . Trethewey writes, ‘To survive trauma, one must be able to tell a story about it.’ And tell her tragic story she does in this lyrical, courageous, and resounding remembrance."
— Booklist (starred review)
"A daughter's heartrending memoir. . . . A haunting look at the cost of violence and the enduring bond between mother and child."
"Trethewey excavates her mother’s life, transforming her from tragic victim to luminous human being. She is a living, breathing dynamo, coming of age in the Jim Crow South, breaking out of the restrictions imposed on her. . . . This is a political book. It is the story of a woman cut down in her prime, about a sick man who imposed his control and had his way, about the larger story of power in America."
— Washington Post
"Both a haunting elegy and profound coming-of-age story, former US poet laureate Natasha Tretheway's Memorial Drive is nothing short of astounding. Tenderly but viscerally exploring the horrific murder of her mother by her former stepfather, Tretheway traces the making of a young Black woman in the South, and the ways agony and joy intertwine to shape us."
"Stunning. . . . The U.S. Poet Laureate's ensuing search for identity has informed much of her brilliant oeuvre . . . but Trethewey's search for identity finds its most immediate testimony in her prose memoir, Memorial Drive. . . . The work confronts the brutal murder of her mother, committed at the hands of her second husband, as well as the searing, unique pain of growing up, as Trethewey writes, a 'child of miscegenation.'"
"In this subtle, sublime memoir, the former poet laureate draws us into the devastating story of her mother’s 1985 murder and through the heart’s terra incognita. Trethewey’s languid pace deftly builds the drama to inevitable tragedy while illuminating the interior life of an imaginative, emotionally abused child."
— O magazine
"Trethewey’s souvenirs from the past, inflected with the knowledge of the poet she’d become, have the intentionality of memorials, not just memories."
— The New Yorker
"An exquisitely written, elegiac memoir. . . . Trethewey, a Pulitzer Prize winner and former two-term U.S. poet laureate, has published five volumes of poetry and a work of prose. In this book she combines the jewel-like concision of the former with the propulsive drive of narrative nonfiction. . . . Memorial Drive is Trethewey’s gorgeous exploration of all the wounds that never heal: her mother’s, her own, and the wounds of slavery and racism on the soul of a troubled nation."
— USA Today
"In Memorial Drive, the musicality of language combines with imagistic intensity to create a world of heightened subjectivity in which the small moon that is the young Trethewey orbits the constant planet that is her mother and her entire world...By giving this space to her mother rather than speaking for her or over her, Trethewey centers the victim of the abuse and trauma. Again, agency and voice, not erasure, is Trethewey's project here. In this moment, Trethewey offers us a powerful way to decolonize and reconsider this question of the representation of the trauma of the self and of others."
“Memorial Drive is the work of a brilliant adult, reframing the insights of an uncommonly keen child. . . . An enduring work, beautiful and horrific. Images are the source material, and Trethewey makes smart use of them. Photographs, music and memories, combined with evidence from the murder trial, are pathways on Trethewey’s journey, which begins 'in the close arrangement of daily life with [her] mother’s family' and becomes an epic struggle, a steady working back. . . . The story she tells is grim and grand, like all struggles to survive. In her telling, Trethewey reveals and instructs."
— Minneapolis Star Tribune
"A beautiful, devastating memoir. . . . Written with great beauty and delicacy."
— Atlanta Journal-Constitution
"A haunting meditation on loss, violence and memory."
— New York Post
"This exquisite book is written by Pulitzer Prize–winning poet Natasha Trethewey. Memorial Drive is about the heart wrenching life experiences that Trethewey has faced, most notably the murder of her mother by her stepfather. There’s sorrow and sadness, but also a tender depiction of the love between mother and daughter. Everyone will feel all the feels while reading this wonderful and emotional book, but especially Cancers, who are always in tune with their parents, especially their mothers. PSA: No matter your zodiac sign, this book should be read with a box of tissues nearby."
"In her anticipated memoir, the former U.S. Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner contemplates the impact of this searing trauma on her life and artistry and reflects on her mother’s legacy. . . . In examining what came before and after the horrific event, Trethewey underscores the power of the love between a mother and daughter."
“Natasha Trethewey’s memoir is predicated on a brutal act, but there is nothing sensational about the way it reads. This memoir-cum-true-crime story from the two-time Poet Laureate and Pulitzer winner is a narrative about how her mother was murdered by her ex-stepfather, but it is also a coming-of-age story for a young artist. The books takes its name from the street where the murder took place, and the writing itself has an emotional groundedness. This book may have been written by one of our most celebrated poets, but its lyricism is tethered to the author’s lived and deeply felt experience.”
"For Natasha Trethewey, the end is very much the beginning, for both her startling new memoir and, as we learn across its pages, the second iteration of herself. . . . Propelled by the Pulitzer Prize-winning U.S. poet laureate’s remarkable command of language, it’s a story that burrows deep in your emotional center. . . . The work enraptures like a thriller, unraveling as it races against the inevitable."
"Natasha Trethewey, who has served two terms as U.S. poet laureate and won a Pulitzer Prize in 2007, explores interlocking themes of domestic abuse, grief, trauma, white racism and memory in this wrenching memoir
— NBC News Digital
"It is the memory of her mother, and her loss, that Trethewey’s unforgettable new book Memorial Drive orbits around like a brilliant sun. . . . One of the most powerful books of the year: while dealing with race and the South, power and gender, and growing up to become a writer, it also details the terror of domestic violence and reveals the shape of grief. . . . In a brilliant move, Trethewey includes extended passages in her mother’s words, giving voice to the woman who was silenced 35 years ago."
"Searingly beautiful. . . . Harrowing, tender, and deeply affecting, Trethewey’s memoir is an absolute must-read."
— The Millions
"A breakthrough book that artfully balances prose and lyricism as it guides us through unspeakable trauma. . . . A deep examination of memory, race, and racism, subjects that fuel her renowned poetry collections . . . Perhaps above all, however, Memorial Drive is a testament to a daughter’s eternal love."
— Los Angeles Review of Books
"[A] powerful gut punch of a memoir . . . Trethewey brings her poetic sensibility to her quest to understand the tragic course of her mother’s life and how her own life had been shaped by that legacy. This discursive, artful memoir is a testimony to the bonds of Southern Black women, and Trethewey’s mother poses the profound question: ‘Do you know what it means to have a wound that never heals?’”
— National Book Review
"Natasha Trethewey is a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet whose work staggers my heart...This is one of the most beautiful memoirs I have ever read...[A] stunning and important book."
— Elizabeth Gilbert