Book Review: Memorial Drive

Natasha Trethewey, a Pulitzer Prize winner and former two-term U.S. poet laureate, had published five volumes of poetry and a work of prose.

Thirty five years after her mother was murdered, Trethaway wrote the memoir “Memorial Drive.”

She was 19 years old and in college when her former stepfather Joel shot and killed her mother, Gwendolyn, who was only 40 years old. They were by then divorced but he just wouldn’t leave her alone.

He was a troubled man, a Vietnam veteran. Her mother died outside of her home in a suburb of Atlanta.

Afterwards Trethaway remembered being led from a dorm room to the crime scene, where she was filmed by a local news crew.


Years later Trethaway and her husband were walking in Decatur, Georgia when a policeman came up to them. The officer said he recognized her from long ago. He told her that he’d been first on the scene the morning her mother died.

The man said that the police usually get rid of the records of a case after 20 years. And he offered to get them for her before that happened if she wanted them. She realized that she did.

It was within these files that she learned more about her mother’s life. And read her mother’s last words. That was the impetus to write this book.

Natasha Trethaway

Trethaway said she knew that she was sort of rendered illegitimate in the eyes of the law because her parents inter-racial marriage was then illegal. Her father was a white man, a future academic born in Nova Scotia.

They divorced and later her mother married a clearly damaged man who abused her.

The murder of Trethewey’s mother followed months of beatings and threats by Joel. Gwendolyn and Natasha escaped to hotels and shelters.

Until there came a time when her mother had the wherewithal to finally leave him.

She moves through her mother’s history in the deeply segregated South and through her own girlhood as a “child of miscegenation” in Mississippi.

Trethewey writes about their lives in the lead-up to the harrowing crime that took place on Memorial Drive in Atlanta in 1985. An event that shaped her and that she finally reckoned with by writing “Memorial Drive.”

My Thoughts:

“Memorial Drive” is an insightful heart-wrenching story clearly written from the depths of pain.

In the memoir, Trethaway was forced to confront her mother’s murder. To finally deal with it and find a place for it.


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  1. Writing this book must have been cathartic for her. I can’t imagine going through that at such a young age. What surprises me is that the records are destroyed after 20 years. TV has painted a picture of these types of records being kept in storage forever. I never gave it any thought I guess but I realize that keeping everything would be a storage nightmare.

    1. I think that unsolved homicides can stay open indefinitely. But records on a closed case are kept until all appeals are exhausted, or the defendant dies. Each state probably has a variation of this.

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