Celebrated Poet Eric Trethewey Has Died

September 19, 2014

Eric Trethewey and his daughter Natasha TretheweySeventy-one-year-old poet Eric Trethewey, who taught poetry to graduate students at Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia; to jail inmates at the Roanoke City Jail; and to his daughter Natasha Trethewey; the 19th US Poet Laureate, died last week. According to The Roanoke Times, the official cause of death was not apparent, but Trethewey appeared to have been injured in a fall.

Having joined the faculty at Hollins in 1984 and worked actively in the creative writing graduate program since, the news came as a shock to Hollins students and faculty, who, in honor of Trethewey’s life, have been sharing excerpts of his poetry on Facebook. The attention given to the loss of his presence is, in the words of his former partner of ten years Kelley Shinn, “the perfect manifestation of his shining, aching soul.”

A fellow faculty member, Richard Dillard, described Trethewey as “a poet of unusual honesty, clarity, and integrity.” “I am so glad that he lived to see his daughter Natasha become Poet Laureate of the United States. He was so very proud of her in all ways.”

In addition to his writing career, Trethewey was the lead singer of a band, a songwriter, guitarist, reporter, longshoreman, and Louisiana Golden Gloves boxer, all of which entered and inspired his work.

Jeanne Larsen, who directs the Jackson Center for Creative Writing at Hollins, said that Trethewey was a “fine, strong poet devoted to the very real power of words to shape our lives, dedicated to social justice and to keeping literature alive in our minds and hearts.”

“I hope everyone who knew him, or wishes they had known him, will track down some piece of his writing and read it,” Larsen wrote. “There’s solace, and there’s great good energy in the poems, stories, and essays he has left for us.”

Trethewey’s work appeared in publications such as Poetry and Atlantic Monthly, and he published five poetry collections, including Songs and Lamentations (WordTech Communications, 2004), The Long Road Home (Goose Lane Editions, 1994), and Evening Knowledge (Cleveland State University Poetry Series, 1991).


Photo of Eric Trethewey and his daughter Natasha Trethewey.

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