MONTGOMERY - Natasha Trethewey accepted her first-ever honor for southern literature on Saturday as Troy University presented the former U.S. poet laureate with the Hall-Waters Prize during a reception at the Young House in Old Alabama Town.
The reception wrapped up a day of activity at the 11th annual Alabama Book Festival. The University was among several sponsors for the festival. Dr. Kirk Curnutt, chair of the TROY English Department, presented the award to Trethewey on behalf of the University. Also taking part in the program were: Janice Hawkins, First Lady of Troy University; Gregg Swem; and Walter Givhan, Senior Vice Chancellor for Advancement and Economic Development.
The Hall-Waters Prize was endowed by late TROY alumnus Dr. Wade Hall, an author, former member of the faculty at the University of Florida and professor emeritus of English at Bellarmine University in Louisville, KY. Dr. Hall died in September.
Dr. Hall, a native of Bullock County, endowed the prize as a memorial to his parents, Wade Hall Sr. and Sarah Elizabeth Waters Hall. The award is presented regularly to a person who has made significant contributions to Southern heritage and culture in history, literature or the arts. Past winners include Rep. John Lewis, Rick Bragg and Bobbie Ann Mason.
"I am deeply honored to receive the Hall-Waters Prize and to accept it today in memory of Wade Hall," Trethewey said. "This is the first prize for southern literature that I have ever won."
Trethewey is author of several volumes of poetry and a nonfiction meditation on Hurricane Katrina.
"I am a southerner," she said. "It is the place that made me. It is my home. It is the place that has given me everything I have to write about. It means everything to me to be honored by you as a southern writer. It is, I think, my birthright. Thank you for restoring it to me."
Trethewey, who was joined at the reception by her husband Dr. Brett Gadsden, is the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Study Center, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Bunting Fellowship Program of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard. Her poems have appeared in such journals and anthologies as "American Poetry Review," "Callaloo," "Kenyon Review," "The Southern Review," "New England Review," "Gettysburg Review," and several volumes of "Best American Poetry. " At Emory University, she is the Robert W. Woodruff Professor of English and Creative Writing.
Her first collection of poetry, "Domestic Work" (2000), was selected by Rita Dove as the winner of the inaugural Cave Canem Poetry Prize for the best first book by an African American poet and won both the 2001 Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Book Prize and the 2001 Lillian Smith Award for Poetry. In her introduction to the book, Dove said, "Trethewey eschews the Polaroid instant, choosing to render the unsuspecting yearnings and tremulous hopes that accompany our most private thoughts—reclaiming for us that interior life where the true self flourishes and to which we return, in solitary reverie, for strength."