Natasha Trethewey, former Mississippi and US Poet Laureate, is our author this Saturday (8-1) on The Thacker Mountain Radio Hour. Our phone interview was recorded last week and man, she’s a sweetheart and a heavyweight, a case of gracious gravitas. Hear the show this Saturday as we kick off an all-star August of shows.
Although she was friendly, personable and completely gracious, it was one of the hardest interviews I’ve ever done…
I read her new book in about two sittings. During the second sitting the phone rang with a swim invite (it was 98 degrees that day) and I DECLINED the invitation. Such was the thrall of the story and writing.
The book, released this week, is Memorial Drive: A Daughter’s Memoir (Ecco). Ms. Trethewey has, of course, made her name in poetry as a Pulitzer winner and a National Book Award nominee, but this is a prose, nonfiction narrative. On the first two pages we learn that when she was nineteen, Natasha’s stepfather shot and killed her mother.
Over the next 200 pages, she takes the reader through the escalating abuse that led to the murder as well as its aftermath. We’re also treated to the good times: in Gulfport (her birthplace) and in her early years in Atlanta when her beautiful, vivacious mother, Gwen, would come home from work and dance to her impressive collection of ‘70s soul records. When the 19-year-old Natasha had to clean out the house after the murder, she was able to take some of her mother’s favorite books but couldn’t bear to take any of the records.
Once the deeply disturbed step-dad enters the picture, you find yourself screaming at the pages. He breaks into Tash’s diary, threatens her and beats Gwen when she sticks up for her daughter.
The laughs and the horrors are delivered with a poet’s precision of language; to the point, but with lyricism. We learn this is a story she has carried with her for over 30 years (“a wound that never heals.”) The great Kiese Laymon said this in his brilliant New York Times review, “Memorial Drive is not the hardest book I have ever read… Memorial Drive is, however, the hardest book I could imagine writing.”
How do you talk to someone about something so raw? Especially over public airwaves? I prepared for our interview as best I could but was still shell-shocked from the book. I’m not sure how it went. Actually, I haven’t heard the interview. All I remember is how soothing her voice was and what a brave, eloquent heart she has.
I’ll hear the show for the first time with the rest of the world this Saturday. It’s like being nervous all over again.
I have heard our musical guests and they are perfect! Memphis soul/hop singer Talibah Safiya and a rocking new gospel group, the Dedicated Men of Zion. Heart and soul this Saturday, baby.
Like everybody, The Thacker Mountain Radio Hour has had to change the way we work. This week’s show (like most all of our upcoming fall shows) was put together in the studio (the Thacker Shack!) without an audience, using phone interviews and remote musical performances.
It works. You still have the power of a truly great writer and the beauty of song but we certainly miss seeing (and feeling) the gathering of souls that happens with an audience. We look forward to getting back to that.
Our show took a huge revenue hit this spring and summer but we’re working to get back. We’ve produced a month of new shows and are looking forward to our full fall schedule. We’ve launched a Thank Thacker fundraising campaign for our production costs and so we can keep paying musicians and authors whose livelihoods have also been affected.
Our goal is $25,000 and we’re over half-way there with $15,500 so far in donations. If you’re so inclined, please click here to help.
I don’t think music and literature on the radio is a luxury. Listen to Natasha and Talibah and the Dedicated Gentlemen this Saturday and you tell me.
As Mr. Dickinson used to say, “Pull up a chair, put some gin in your glass and dig it.”
See you on the radio – J.D.
This Saturday, August 1 – New show! Guests: US Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey, Memphis singer-songwriter Talibah Safiya (“Middle of the Night”) and North Carolina gospel group, the Dedicated Men of Zion (“Can’t Turn Me Around”).
The show is hosted by Jim Dees and our house band, the Yalobushwhackers.
Saturday, August 1 at 7pm (CT) Mississippi Public Broadcasting
9pm (CT) Alabama Public Radio