New Memoir by Natasha Trethewey M.A. ’91 Earns Praise and Inspires Dialogue

“To survive trauma, one must be able to tell a story about it,” writes Natasha Trethewey M.A. ’91.

In her new book, Memorial Drive: A Daughter’s Memoir, the Pulitzer Prize winner and two-time U.S. Poet Laureate courageously and compellingly faces, after more than three decades, the shooting death of her mother by her second husband and Trethewey’s former stepfather. The murder followed years of domestic abuse.

“The reason that I am a writer is that tremendous loss from when I was 19,” Trethewey relates in an interview with Esquire magazine. But, as her public profile grew during her terms as poet laureate, PBS NewsHour Chief Arts Correspondent Jeffrey Brown notes that the author “saw articles written about her make her mother’s killing almost kind of a footnote.”

Trethewey tells Brown, “And I thought, if that was going to continue to happen, that I needed to be the one to tell her story, so that she could be put in her proper context….”

Esquire calls this summer’s publication of Memorial Drive “a second alignment of the stars” for Trethewey in that it “confronts the murder of her mother as well as our nation’s fraught racial legacy.”

“Not only is it that all of these [race-based topics] are coming to a head right now,” she says, “but also, the pandemic has increased the number of cases of domestic violence. People are sheltering in place often with their abusers because they have no choice. So, to see these things intersecting in such a powerful and traumatic way is difficult, but it also suggests that maybe we’ll be able to have a conversation and a reckoning with it that we haven’t quite had before.”

The memoir has resounded with journalists and critics at a number of major media outlets. Along with the profiles in Esquire (which has already named Memorial Drive one of its Best Books of 2020) and on PBS NewsHour, Trethewey has been featured in The New York Times, The New Yorker, the Chicago Tribune, Chicago magazine, and The Atlantic, and heard on NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross. People magazine named Memorial Drive its Book of the Week (while also citing Hieroglyphics by Jill McCorkle M.A. ’81 in the same issue as one of the week’s Best New Books), while the New York Post included it among its Best Books of the Week for the first week of August.

Memorial Drive has also garnered enthusiastic acclaim, both nationally and internationally:

  • “Trethewey’s masterpiece.” – The New York Times
  • “Trethewey has delivered the kind of book that can only come from a writer at the height of her powers, a human at the height of her wisdom and pathos.” – Chicago magazine
  • “An enduring work, beautiful and horrific.” – The Star-Tribune (Minneapolis)
  • “Trethewey excavates her mother’s life, transforming her from tragic victim to luminous human being. She is a living, breathing dynamo, coming of age in the Jim Crow South, breaking out of the restrictions imposed on her.” – The Washington Post
  • “An exquisitely written, elegiac memoir. Memorial Drive is Trethewey’s gorgeous exploration of all the wounds that never heal: her mother’s, her own, and the wounds of slavery and racism on the soul of a troubled nation.” – USA Today
  • “Stunning….As Trethewey revisits her past, she again turns on a light in the darkest of corners, piecing together the memories of her childhood and her mother’s death as the hands of her stepfather. Her pain still feels primal, but the poet confronts shadows to reveal, as she writes, ‘the story I tell myself to survive.’” – Garden & Gun
  • “Three decades ago that masterly American writer Tobias Wolff published This Boy’s Life, his classic memoir of a troubled childhood and a bullying, unpredictably violent stepfather. It’s no exaggeration to say that Natasha Trethewey’s book belongs in the same exalted company.” – The Times (London)

When asked during her Esquire interview what has to happen in publishing so that “stories that hit a variety of identities get to be told on an equally grand scale as those that come from white authors with white characters,” Trethewey shares the story of a young, white college student from South Carolina who was initially dismissive when her professor assigned her class to read the author’s first collection of poems, Domestic Work, which explores the working lives of African-Americans in the pre-civil rights era of the 20th century. But, Trethewey says, after reading the book, “She saw her own family in my family.”

Trethewey concludes, “We need to understand that Black writers, or other writers of color, are telling stories that relate to all of us. They’re not just stories that are only about that select group of people. Humanity is the thing that we all have in common.”

 


President-Elect Hinton Joins Higher Ed. Leaders, New York Times Magazine to Discuss College This Fall

President-elect Mary Dana Hinton is among the higher education leaders brought together this week by The New York Times Magazine to consider “What Will College Be Like in the Fall?”

In her introduction to the discussion, Staff Writer Emily Bazelton notes the challenges colleges and universities face as the coronavirus remains a global threat this fall and winter. “On one side of the ledger are the health risks of density if students return to the dorms and classrooms and facilities….On the other side are disruption and derailment, concern about the isolation of online learning and economic loss for institutions, college towns and regions.”

Bazelton asks, “As colleges and universities make decisions now about their operations over the next academic year, what are the conditions for trying to reopen campuses? If students return, what changes to college life will be needed to contain and suppress the virus?”

Hinton and five other panelists explore “the new realities of life on campus in the midst of a pandemic,” and address specifically the following questions:

  • “If Schools Reopen, What Will Campus Life Look Like?”
  • “What About Working on Campus?”
  • “What Will Learning Be Like?”

Hinton believes reopening Hollins “will be a time of mutual accountability and collective responsibility for the well-being of one another. Healing and the safe re-establishment of community has to be the priority for student life on campus. The community has to collaborate.”

The president-elect goes on to highlight the distinction that “for students whom we want to have social and economic mobility, it’s not just the transactional part of education that matters. It’s the transformational component. And we hear from our students that the development of critical thinking, problem solving and leadership skills – skills that are so important in this search for equity and mobility – happen within and outside the classroom. Being together, being seen and heard, really matters. Also, for some of our students, they need the housing, they need food, they need safety, they need to be in community.”

Joining Hinton in the discussion are Carlos Aramayo, president of the Boston chapter (Local 26) of the union UNITE HERE, which represents dining hall staff members at colleges and universities; Michael V. Drake, president of Ohio State University and a physician; Richard Levin, former president of Yale University and an economist; David Wall Rice, a psychology professor and associate provost at Morehouse College; and Pardis Sabeti, a biology professor at Harvard University and a member of the Broad Institute and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. 


“Help Wanted – Female”: Hollins Alumna’s New York Times Op-Ed Reflects on Pivotal Point in the Women’s Movement

Turning to the classified ads section of the nation’s top daily newspaper to find job openings under the headings “Help Wanted – Male” and “Help Wanted – Female” would be jarring to us today. But, The New York Times actually listed career opportunities in this manner until just 50 years ago this week, when the 1964 Civil Rights Act and growing public backlash convinced the paper to simply use the term “Help Wanted.”

Wyndham Robertson ’58 puts the spotlight on this little-remembered but nevertheless significant milestone in her op-ed piece, “The Long Shadow of ‘Help Wanted – Female,’” which on November 29 was fittingly published by the Times.

Robertson, who went on to enjoy a distinguished career as an editor and writer at Fortune magazine after graduating from Hollins, recalls believing that bringing a new sensibility to classified job ads would help women rise above the low-paying, so-called “Gal Friday” positions that dominated the “Help Wanted – Female” section.

“Before classified ads went unisex, women had no established path to high-level jobs,” she writes. “At the time I thought this would be a game changer for women, and of course, it was – to a point.”

She notes that “change came very slowly” over the years. While at Fortune in the late 1970s, she looked at more than a thousand of the nation’s largest corporations to find women who were among each company’s three highest-paid employees; she discovered just ten.

Yet, Robertson remained optimistic. “I took the upbeat and not uncommon position that once more women were ‘in the pipeline’…executive suites would be teeming with women.”

Thus, Robertson is mystified that in 2018, “life at the top of large American corporations still seems so overwhelmingly male,” with women representing only five percent of all CEOs on the Fortune 500. “There must be a reason for this weak showing,” she concludes, “but access to the pipeline, we can now safely say, isn’t it.”

“Wyndham’s thoughtful essay underscores that our commitment to developing women who build lives of consequence has never been more essential,” says Hollins President Pareena Lawrence. “As an institution with undergraduate programs for women, our work is cut out for us. We must continue to prepare women to lead in all sectors of society with renewed urgency.  Our innovative emphasis on leadership, life skills, and professional development along with new investments in business and entrepreneurship will give our students the foundation to fulfill the promise inherent in those unisex classified ads five decades ago.”

Alexandra Trower ’86, chair of the Hollins Board of Trustees and vice president, global communications at The Estée Lauder Companies, adds that Robertson’s op-ed is “a timely and important reminder that there are a great many glass ceilings left to be shattered. Hollins is uniquely positioned to empower its students to confront and overcome those barriers in the years to come.”

Photo: Wyndham Robertson ’58 at Fortune magazine, 1974. Credit: Barbara J. Little


In Chronicle Essay, Hollins Dean Asserts Teacher-Scholars’ Crucial Role

In his commentary published August 7 in The Chronicle of Higher Education, “How Teacher-Scholars Prepare Students for an Evolving World,” Associate Professor of Philosophy and Dean of Academic Services Michael Gettings argues, “As faculty, our research informs our teaching and benefits our students. One is not a teacher and a scholar, one is a teacher-scholar. Through scholarship, teachers model good learning and offer special opportunities for students. The benefits of this model for both teacher and student are maximized in the liberal-arts setting where students can build strong relationships with faculty.”

Gettings goes on to state that teacher-scholars help students develop the skills identified by developmental psychologists Roberta Michnick Golinkoff and Kathryn Hirsh-Pasek as essential for the workplace of the future (“the six C’s”): collaboration, communication, content, critical thinking, creativity, and confidence.


Virginia Business Magazine: Celebrating Women’s Education, Hollins University Blends Liberal Arts and Job Preparation

President Nancy Gray and Board of Trustees Chair Judy Lambeth ’73 discuss Hollins’ 175th anniversary and how the university is ready fiscally and academically to meet the present and future challenges in higher learning in this profile from the February 2017 issue of Virginia Business magazine.

(Correction: The article states that Lambeth led the search for a new president. In fact, the presidential search committee was chaired by Linda Lorimer ’74 and Lambeth served on the committee.)

 

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NPR’s Fresh Air: Beth Macy M.A. ’93 Discusses “Truevine”

Fresh Air, one of public radio’s most popular programs, welcomed journalist and bestselling author Beth Macy M.A. ’93 as the show’s featured guest on October 18.

Macy talked with host Terry Gross about her new book, Truevine: Two Brothers, a Kidnapping, and a Mother’s Quest: A True Story of the Jim Crow South.

Audio and a transcript of the interview are available here.


Roanoke Times: Hollins Graduate Joins Mission to ‘South Pacific’

Mezzo soprano Helena Brown graduated from Hollins in 2012 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in music. Now, she’s returning to the area to perform in Opera Roanoke‘s production of the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, South Pacific. The Roanoke Times’ Mike Allen talks with Brown about her musical career and how studying at Hollins “was one of the best decisions I made in the course of my life….”


WSLS-TV Names Hollins Professor Ed Lynch Political Analyst

Hollins Professor of Political Science Ed Lynch is often tasked with explaining what the politicians are up to in an election year more confusing than most. Now, WSLS-TV 10, the NBC affiliate for Roanoke and southwestern Virginia, has assigned Lynch the job of official political analyst for its news broadcasts.

Lynch is no stranger to media events. Since his time on Capitol Hill in the 1980s, he has done thousands of interviews on television and radio and for the print media. Since moving to Roanoke, Lynch has become an invaluable source to area journalists, combining his real-life experience in the world of politics with his academic background, coupled with an unusually strong ability to explain complex matters in short sound bites.

Earlier this year, conversations with WSLS News Director Rick Moll and anchor John Carlin led to an arrangement in which Lynch provides political analysis exclusively for the station. He has provided commentary on the primary season, the many debates among the candidates, and the political conventions this summer. Along the way, he has seen the unexpected rise of Donald Trump, the surprisingly persistent campaign of Bernie Sanders, and the embrace of political activism by millions of new voters.

Moll gives Lynch high marks for his clarity and even-handedness. Viewers of WSLS have also reacted positively.

“The political process can be confusing for many, especially during a Presidential cycle like we have right now,” Moll said. “It’s our job in the media to break down the issues. We need to make sense of what’s happening and more importantly, how these issues impact our viewers. That’s where Ed Lynch comes in. We want to utilize his experience and background to take a hard look at local politics as well as what’s happening on the national scene. He has the ability to simplify the key issues and get to the root of what’s being discussed. We’re extremely happy to have him on our team.”

The repeated exposure on Roanoke television has made Lynch one of the most recognizable figures in the Roanoke Valley, and one of the most prominent public “faces” of Hollins University. Lynch said that he is often stopped by complete strangers, who compliment his analysis and ask questions. “I appreciate being asked my opinion,” Lynch said, “I just wish I had nicer things to say about the current campaign!”

This fall, Lynch will bring his expertise to the First Year Seminar program, teaching a class called “How to Be a President.” He rejects the notion that the shrill tone and personal attacks of the 2016 campaign are in any way unique or extreme. “Negative campaigning, including vicious personal attacks, goes back to the rivalry between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson,” he said, “and those were the first contested elections in American history.”

He added, “I feel the pain of those students dismayed at having to cast their first vote for president during a year when both candidates have such high negatives. My first time, I had to choose between Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter!”

With the Virginia gubernatorial race set to kick off the moment the presidential race is decided, Lynch does not believe that his relationship with WSLS will end any time soon.


Vanity Fair: “Hollins Can Offer a Worldly Experience that Many Larger Institutions Can’t”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the May 2016 issue of Vanity Fair magazine, author Lisa Birnbach profiles nine women’s colleges, including Hollins University. She strongly makes the case that women’s colleges remain relevant: “The richness and intimacy of these students’ experiences are enviable and inspiring. As a college-guidebook writer and a mother of college students, I have not heard so many students talk about appreciating their educations.”

Birnbach notes that Hollins’ “secret sauce is the intensely involved alumnae, who return to campus whenever they’re invited as mentors, and who provide internship opportunities to the students. It’s an irresistible combination….Students have interned at major law firms in Washington and New York, Estée Lauder, the Republican National Committee, the Stonewall Community Foundation, the Library of Congress, PBS, and the National Dance Institute.”