Acclaimed poet and bestselling memoirist Natasha Trethewey is guest of honor at the Morton Marcus Memorial Poetry Reading on November 3.

Natasha Trethewey, author of the bestselling 2020 memoir Memorial Drive: A Daughter’s Memoir, will be sharing her poetry with the Santa Cruz community

The Pulitzer-prize-winning poet, essayist and bestselling memoirist Natasha Trethewey found comfort in verse in the time of her deepest grief. 

Now she is a passionate advocate of poetry’s power. “It’s the way we have to connect not only the intellect but also the heart, to engage the whole body with breath, with rhythm,” she told Poets & Writers.

Trethewey, who served as the 19th Poet Laureate of the United States, will be the honored guest speaker at the annual Morton Marcus Poetry Reading at 6 p.m. on Thursday, November 3, at the Merrill College Cultural Center at UC Santa Cruz. 

The poetry reading is presented by The Humanities Institute at UCSC. 

The event is free and open to the public but advance registration is required

The reading series honors the life and work of poet, author, teacher, film critic, and activist for the arts Morton Marcus (1936–2009). A longtime Santa Cruz resident, Marcus was strongly associated with the Central Coast literary community.

Poet and artist Gary Young will host the program. The evening will include an announcement of the winner of the Morton Marcus Poetry Contest. The recipient receives a $1,000 prize.

“This year’s Morton March Poetry Reading is the 13th in the series, and this year’s poet, Natasha Trethewey, continues our mission to bring the finest poets working in America to UCSC and to the greater Santa Cruz Community,” said Young, a continuing lecturer at UCSC and director of the Cowell Press. 

“I've been reading and teaching Trethewey’s poems since her second book, Bellocq’s Ophelia, came out some twenty years ago,” Young continued.  “Her rigorous, inventive intelligence, and the music of her poems mesmerized me then, and still do.”

This event is a milestone in another respect: it marks a return of in-person poetry readings at UCSC after two years of interruptions because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I can’t imagine a more ferocious, penetrating, and engaging writer than Natasha Trethewey to welcome live readings back to campus and the Morton Marcus Reading series,” Young said.

“An opening in time”

In an interview with the Paris Review, Trethewey, author of the bestselling memoir Memorial Drive, commemorating the life and murder of her mother, spoke of poetry’s uncanny power “to create a sort of opening in time; it feels like there are moments of resurrection that I can live fully inside of, like a memory of my mother that brings her back … my living mother is with me, too. That’s the seed planted in the heart which grows and grows.”

The San Francisco-based writer Mark Ong, who serves on the Morton Marcus Poetry Reading's Organizing Committee, and is Morton Marcus’s literary executor, spoke of Trethewey’s artistry, balance, focus, and discipline.

“A good poet is a high-wire artist,” Ong said. “They have to walk between past poetry and the distant point of their own work. They have to bridge between the constraints of words and their own creativity. And they have to stand between their own terrors and the healing possibilities of art.”

Trethewey was a 19-year-old college student when her former stepfather murdered her mother. Trethewey has told interviewers that her life as a poet truly began at that moment. 

“If you've read her memoir, Memorial Drive, you know that she has endured horrific events,” Ong said. “Yet she courageously shapes her past into what all poetry must do: give form to the unspeakable.”

Trethewey is the author of five poetry collections, including Native Guard (2006), for which she was awarded the 2007 Pulitzer Prize; Monument: Poems New and Selected (2018); Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast (2010).

Trethewey’s book of nonfiction, Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, was published in 2010. She is the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Beinecke Library at Yale, and the Bunting Fellowship Program of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard. At Northwestern University she is the Board of Trustees Professor of English in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. 

In 2012 she was named Poet Laureate of the State of Mississippi and in 2013 she was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Seating is limited at the cultural center so sign up here to reserve your spot.