Volume 77
Number 4

Health for All

Fear of Flying

Flying II: High Anxiety

Virtual Vietnam

Uncovering the Past

Wired New World

Enigma: Physics Band

Emory University

Association of Emory Alumni

Current News and Events

Emory Report



Sports Updates





















































In her poems, Natasha Trethewey captures ancestral memory like vintage photographs kept in a shoebox beneath her bed, pulled out and examined one by one. She reads into lined faces and distracted gazes all the hopes and desires extinguished by incessant labor; dreams too large to contain but too risky to say aloud.

“I figured out that I had a whole collection of poems that try to explore the everyday work that we do,” Trethewey says of the poems collected in Domestic Work, which won the Cave Canem poetry prize, a Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Book Prize, and the 2001 Lillian Smith Award for Poetry. “Not just the work of earning a living and managing households, but also the work of self-discovery, relationships, the people we live with or without, and of memory and forgetting.”

Trethewey, who joined the creative writing faculty at Emory this fall, has written poetry since she was a child growing up with her African-American mother and stepfather in Decatur, summering at her African-American grandmother’s home in Gulfport, Mississippi, and visiting her white father in New Orleans.

Sensory traces of each locale and culture simmer in her words–heavy blossoms in afternoon rain, the Delta heat, gumbo and red beans.

Poet Rita Dove, who wrote the introduction to Domestic Work, says Trethewey’s sonnets, traditional ballads, and free verses “shot through with the syncopated attitude of blues” create a “tapestry of ancestors . . . lives pursued on the margins, lived out under oppression and in scripted oblivion, with fear and a tremulous hope. There’s the work-at-home seamstress who wears a wig every day just in case someone drops by . . . the father turned amateur boxer who has learned to survive by ‘holding his body up to pain.’ ”

In a recent class, Trethewey guided a circle of undergraduates through each other’s poems, stanza by stanza, searching for text and subtext. “What is the undercurrent of meaning?” she asks. “What were you getting at in that image?”

Although Trethewey is now a critically acclaimed poet whose work has appeared in the American Poetry Review, the New England Review, the African American Review, and the Best American Poetry 2000, she remembers all too well the determined, sometimes painful, journey she made to claim her craft.

Trethewey’s first book of poetry was placed in the library of Venetian Hills Elementary School in Atlanta. “It was filled with trite little rhymes about historical figures like George Washington and Martin Luther King Jr.,” Trethewey recalls, grinning. “My third-grade teacher bound it and the librarian went along with her and placed it on the shelves.”

She kept writing, becoming editor of the Redan High School newspaper, then turning to fiction and short stories. “My mother died when I was a freshman in college, and to try to grapple with that huge loss, I turned to poetry, to try to make sense of the world and me in it,” she says.

And, in a process that allows her to identify with struggling poets everywhere, her early results were less than stellar. “I actually wrote a poem that had a line in it about sinking into an ocean of despair, with the word ‘sinking’ going diagonally down the page,” she says, shaking her head. “My father and stepmother are both poets and they absolutely ripped that poem to shreds. I ran upstairs sobbing, vowing never to write another poem.”

Trethewey says now she appreciates their honesty. “My father wasn’t going to say nice things to me to spare my feelings, because he took seriously my potential,” says Trethewey, who dedicated Domestic Work to him. “Now it goes both ways–he sends me his work to critique.”–M.J.L.

There is no winter here of heart . . .

The opening sentence of the poem “Cemetery Autumn,” one of those featured in the award-winning collection, The Island of Lost Luggage, by Janet E. McAdams ’96PhD, gets at the core of McAdams’s work: while some of her themes are chilling, her poems also are infused with a human warmth and reason that lend balance to even the darkest among them.

“The poems are about loss and recovery, compassion and despair, complicity and resistance,” McAdams said in an interview in late September. “I want to remind readers–and myself, continually–of the world’s miraculous beauty. But I also want to map out a kind of responsibility not to turn away from its ugliness. I think the greatest poetry is there to both comfort and disturb. I know in the past few weeks, I’ve found poetry to be of great consolation.”

McAdams’s collection won a 2001 American Book Award and the 1999 First Book Award in Poetry from the Native Writers’ Circle of the Americas/Wordcraft Circle. Noted for drawing meaningful connections between the personal and the political, McAdams’ poetry gives equally careful consideration to conflict in Central America, the destruction of the environment, and the twisted machinations of love and loss. The title poem, dedicated to a hometown friend who died in the 1983 Korean Airlines crash, grapples with the mysteries of mortality and passage. Rich in concrete details that lighten their touch, many of her poems have a decidedly activist bent.

While earning her Ph.D. in comparative literature at Emory, McAdams, who is of Scottish, Irish, and Creek Indian descent, helped found the Native American History Month program at the University. Her poetry has earned her fellowships from both the Georgia and Alabama state art councils. She is now the Robert H. Hubbard Professor of Poetry at Kenyon College. —P.P.P.

Also in Précis:

Crawford Long Hospital undergoes $270 million renovation

Doc Hollywood: The Musical

A Journey of Reconciliation

Depression and high blood pressure make deadly combination

Growing Green: The Piedmont Project

Library augments literary holdings

A Race of Singers

Remembering Evangeline T. Papageorge ’29M

Emory’s “hidden history” revealed in Oxford Historical Cemetery

Faith Journey: Daniel B. Cole ’93C



© 2002 Emory University