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Memorial Drive: A Daughter's Memoir (Hardcover)

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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


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.

Praise For…

"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

“Alternately beautiful and devastating.”
Washington Post

"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."
— Esquire

"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.“
— Time

"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."
— Parade

"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."
— Buzzfeed

"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."
— BBC.com

"[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

"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."

"[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."
— LitHub

"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)

"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."
— The New York Times Book Review
Product Details
ISBN: 9780062248572
ISBN-10: 006224857X
Publisher: Ecco
Publication Date: July 28th, 2020
Pages: 224
Language: English