Natasha Trethewey is the daughter of Eric Trethewey, a white Canadian immigrant and poet, and his wife, Gwendolyn Ann Turnbough, a black social worker. Her parents met as students in Kentucky, but because interracial marriage was illegal in the state at that time, her parents had to go to Ohio to marry. Trethewey spent her early years in Mississippi, but when her parents divorced when she was six, she moved with her mother to Atlanta. She then spent summers with her mother’s family in Mississippi and visited with her father, who was at Tulane University in New Orleans. With her father’s encouragement, she began to write both poetry and fiction.
While Trethewey was a student at the University of Georgia in 1985, her mother was murdered by her former second husband whom she had divorced a year earlier. Trethewey persevered at the university and earned her bachelor’s degree in English in 1989. She spent several months as a social worker in Augusta, Georgia, before entering Hollins College (now University), where her father was teaching English. She studied English and creative writing and was awarded an M.A. in 1991. She then enrolled at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where she earned an M.F.A. in poetry in 1995.
Around this time, Trethewey became associated with the Dark Room Collective, a group of young African American writers founded by Thomas Sayers Ellis and Sharan Strange. Their purpose was to bring together established and young black writers. Trethewey’s work started to appear in literary journals, and her poems began to be selected for anthologies. Her first book of poetry, Domestic Work, was published in 2000.
In 1998, she married Brett Gadsden, a professor of African American studies. Trethewey began her teaching career at Auburn University in Alabama in 1997. In 2001, she became a member of the faculty at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, where she became professor of English and the Phillis Wheatley Distinguished Chair in Poetry.