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Écritures dans les Amériques au féminin

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Dante Barrientos-Tecun
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Anne Reynes-Delobel

Récit de soi, récit collectif

Natasha Trethewey’s Personal Story as American History

Pearl Amelia McHaney

Résumé

As an ekphrastic writer, Natasha Trethewey (who won a Pulitzer Prize for Native Guard and is the current Poet Laureate of the U.S. in 2012) is superior. Whether drawing with artfully chosen words arranged in “elegant envelopes” of form to present Bellocq’s photographs of the madams of New Orlean’s Storyville district, to perform a reenactment of a famous portrait of the twentieth-century southern Fugitive poets, or to dissect the taxonomies of the eighteenth century Mexican Casta paintings, Trethewey paints her own clear pictures for her readers and then transitions smoothly into the abstract conundrums of race, gender, and colonialism of the past and present. This article presents both the visual catalysts of Trethewey’s poetry and the poetic results. In Belloq’s Ophelia (2002), Native Guard (2006) and Thrall (2012), Trethewey creates a triptych of her personal story painted onto the canvas of America’s public history. She is the daughter of a white Canadian father who is a poet and an African American mother from Mississippi who is murdered by Trethewey’s step-father. The books as a whole are greater than the sum of their individual poems as they reveal the history that has been erased, ignored, or forgotten. Each public history, once examined, reveals itself to be a palimpsest.

Poète de l’ekphrasis, Natasha Trethewey (prix Pulitzer et Poète Lauréat 2012) est l’une des grandes voix de la poésie américaine contemporaine. Dans une langue choisie et arrangée avec soin dans « d’élégantes enveloppes » formelles, elle présente les tenancières des maisons closes de la Nouvelle-Orléans photographiées par Bellocq, revisite le célèbre portrait des Fugitifs (mouvement poétique fondé dans le sud des États-Unis dans les années 1920) ou encore dissèque la taxonomie des portraits de castes à Mexico, au xviiie siècle, passant imperceptiblement de la clarté de la représentation à l’énigme abstraite des questions liées à la race, au genre et au colonialisme, passées ou présentes. Cet article analyse les lignes de force de la poétique de Trethewey. Belloq’s Ophelia (2002), Native Guard (2006) et Thrall (2012) composent un triptyque où le fil autobiographique croise la trame de l’Histoire des États-Unis. Trethewey est née d’un père blanc, Canadien d’origine, et d’une mère afro-américaine originaire du Mississippi, assassinée par son second mari. Considérés dans leur ensemble, ces trois recueils dévoilent une histoire oubliée, effacée ou ignorée, palimpseste de l’Histoire officielle.

Texte intégral

1As an ekphrastic writer, poet Natasha Trethewey (who won a Pulitzer Prize for Native Guard and was the current Poet Laureate of the U.S. from 2012-2014) is superior. She writes formal poems, arranging her artfully chosen words into “elegant envelopes,” as she calls her sonnets, villanelles, ghazals, and pantoums. In Bellocq’s Ophelia, she presents E. J. Bellocq’s photographs of the prostitutes in New Orleans. Another poem in that collection performs a reenactment of a famous portrait of the southern Fugitive poets. In her 2012 book, Thrall, Trethewey dissects the taxonomies of the eighteenth century Mexican Casta paintings. Trethewey paints her own clear pictures for her readers and then transitions smoothly into the abstract conundrums of America’s history — race, gender, and colonialism. She says, “I want the largest possible audience of people to be welcomed into my poems and to use the most important muscle human beings have, which is the muscle of empathy” (“Southern” 160). Through self-reflection, Trethewey discovers the meaning of her personal experiences and then she marries memory and history, the personal and the public.

2Considering Bellocq’s Ophelia (2002), Native Guard (2006) and Thrall (2012) as a triptych and thus suggesting a concrete visual reference in which the sacred and the secular, the Virgin Mary at the annunciation in the center panel and the patron among the saints in the wing panels, may help us to see Trethewey, at the center of her poetry, simultaneously painting her story onto a canvas of the American history that has been erased, ignored, or forgotten. The books as a whole are greater than the sum of their individual poems, as a triptych by linking three paintings together is grander than any one of its panels.

3Trethewey is the daughter of a white Canadian father who is a poet and an African American mother from Mississippi, a social worker, who was murdered by Trethewey’s step-father. In Bellocq’s Ophelia, Trethewey speaks from the voice a mulatto woman who works in the legalized prostitution district of New Orleans in the first decades of the twentieth century as recorded by white French Creole photographer E. J. Bellocq even as she tells her own story of being biracial. In Native Guard, she writes elegies to her mother who was beaten and murdered by her second husband, Trethewey’s step-father. She weaves these painful and personal poems with sonnets that tell an ignored history, sonnets about the Louisiana Native Guards, the first African American regiment to serve the Union. In Thrall, Trethewey writes to her poet father whom she charges as a colonialist comparable to the Spaniards’ enslaving of and mating with the Indian and Black Americans. Trethewey herself is so personable — as are her personal revelations regarding herself and her family — that readers are now often forgetful of the history that she is also unearthing or un-erasing, the forgotten or ignored histories that she is seeking to bring to our attention. While it is right and appropriate to acknowledge Trethewey as the first biracial poet to be given the mantle of U.S. Poet Laureate and that she writes about racial issues, she states emphatically that she is not a race poet, that she is a poet of history. A few poems from each of these books illustrate that on the palimpsest where we read the personal story are traces of a public history. And when we look at the public history that is recovered, revealed, we glean something of Trethewey’s personal story. By design, Trethewey presents both sides of a question: either/or, one or the other: private and personal or public and national; memory or history; literal or literary and figurative. This is a kind of in utrumque partes pattern of argument, even within her poetic forms. She presents both sides in order to arrive, as Aristotle says, at a state of truth. We can choose her personal story or the public history, but both are present if we are willing to see.

4In Bellocq’s Ophelia, Trethewey speaks through the persona of a young biracial woman described by Trethewey as “a very white-skinned black woman” (6) in poems that are diary entries and letters. Trethewey positions the reader in Ophelia’s world by historically contextualizing black women with an opening epigraph by Toni Morrison: “She had nothing to fall back on; not maleness, not whiteness, not ladyhood, not anything. And out of the profound desolation of her reality she may well have invented herself” (Bellocq [1], Morrison 1971: 24). With no opportunities in Mississippi, but a sound education, Ophelia goes to New Orleans to seek work. Finding none, being “too hungry / to reason” (12) and out of money, Ophelia goes to Countess P’s brothel in the Storyville, the legalized prostitution district of New Orleans from 1897-1917, the neighborhood named for Sidney Story, the alderman who authored the legislation so as to contain prostitution. There, Ophelia’s body itself is collateral because of, not in spite of, skin color.

5“And so, last night / I was auctioned as a newcomer / to the house,” she writes gently to her former teacher Miss Constance Wright, “—as yet untouched, though / Countess knows well the thing from which / I’ve run” (13). Is that the hunger she has already mentioned? Or the white father? Other “girls,” Ophelia writes, “even speak of a child / they left behind” (13). Or is it Mississippi in general from which she has escaped? We read in Trethewey’s next book, Native Guard, that her parents had to marry in Ohio because of the anti-miscegenation laws in her mother’s state, Mississippi. Ophelia’s missive to her teacher, “Letter[s] from Storyville[,] December 1910” explains more:

The auction was a near
quiet affair—much like the one Whitman
described, the men some wealthy “gentlemen”
from out of town. Countess announced
that I recite poetry, hinting as a more dignified
birth and thus a tragic occasion for my arrival
at her house. She calls me
Violet now—
a common name here in Storyville—except
that I am the
African Violet for the promise
of that wild continent hidden beneath
my white skin.” (13)

6Ophelia secretly retains for herself only her name Ophelia and her past into which she sometimes escapes:

I recall / my earliest training—childhood—how
my mother taught me to curtsy and be still
so that I might please a white man, my father.
For him, I learned to shape my gestures,
practiced expressions on my pliant face.” (20)

7Trethewey’s persona is not literally, but literarily, herself. Yet, in Bellocq’s Ophelia, Trethewey is not essentially or even consciously, interested in telling her personal history, but in creating empathy, which she learned from her youthful reading of the Diary of Anne Frank. Trethewey says, “I want a reader who might not have considered some of the issues my poems raise to feel themselves drawn in and to see the world themselves through a slightly different lens that allows for shared histories, instead of separate ones” (“Southern” 160). As we empathize with Ophelia, we identify not with a prostitute, but with someone who has no agency. Ophelia’s letters narrate what she is willing to reveal to others and then in her diary entries what she reveals to herself. As she learns to empathize with herself, she moves away from the gaze and thrall of men and out from under Bellocq’s imprisoning lens. She stands first beside Bellocq, learning his trade, then behind his camera, and then without the mask of the lens, to stand free. Her final diary entry is labeled “(Self) Portrait” (46); the last letter, a “Postcard” written “en route westward.” a series of five haiku, concluding: “I feel what trees must— / budding, green sheaths splitting—skin / that no longer fits” (33).

8The personal history of Bellocq’s Ophelia might be read as Trethewey coming into her own as a poet, journeying through her biracial past, the divorce of her parents, her travels to New Orleans where her father studied to be a poet, her shedding of such mantels even as she seizes them in understanding. During the writing of the poems in Bellocq’s Ophelia, Trethewey returned to Georgia where she had lived with her mother, step-father and brother, where she went to majority white schools under federal orders to reduce segregation, where her mother was murdered by her second husband whom she had divorced, a man obsessed with Trethewey’s whiteness. In what we read as American history: colored brothels in Storyville, New Orleans; the desirability of octoroons; the early nineteenth-century photographer E. J. Bellocq and his often-marred photographic plates discovered and printed by Lee Friedlander, exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in 1970, we find the personal history twined with public histories that are seldom recorded, in the same way that Bellocq photographed the lesser known lives in New Orleans’s prostitution houses and opium dens.

9To the histories of rural Mississippi — “news of another lynching where you are” (22) — and urban New Orleans, Storyville in particular, Trethewey brings the other great metropolis of the early twentieth-century when Ophelia describes for Constance the dead bodies “in New York City—a clothing factory, so many women // dying in a fire” (22). Most died where they worked, “locked up tight” in what Ophelia names a “tomb” (22). Then she ponders, “I live where I work. Will I die here / too?” (22). The women who jumped from the ninth story “chose a last moment of flight.” The alternate fate was “to be burned clean / in the fire’s embrace, to rise again through the flames” (22). Ophelia is writing at the time of the 1911 tragedy. Trethewey imagined scenes of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of March 25, 1911, from reported facts and submitted the manuscript of Bellocq’s Ophelia for publication in fall 2000. Reading the poem post-9/11, 2001, one might recall Toni Morrison’s argument in “The Site of Memory” that history can tell us facts but that imagination reveals the story, and in this way, Trethewey uses the history of race to offer empathy to many or any who are trapped, across time and space.

10The American history most notably told in Native Guard (2006) is that of the Louisiana Native Guards, free blacks and freed slaves in Union regiments assigned to guard white Confederate soldiers imprisoned on Ship Island in the Gulf of Mexico, just off shore from Trethewey’s home town of Gulfport, Mississippi. However, neither Trethewey nor other visitors to the island knew of the Native Guards, for there were no monuments, so signs of the history. Again, Trethewey adds her imagination to the facts and empathizes with the educated black union soldiers who write letters for their white prisoners, are fired upon and wounded or killed by white men in their own units, are left to rot in the fields when their general said “I have / no dead there” (28). But this and other pieces of American history (Jim Crow laws, segregation, racial inequities) are eclipsed in the reception of Native Guard by the personal history of the murder of Trethewey’s mother and Trethewey’s grief, revealed through the first section of the book that is comprised of elegies for her mother.

11“What the Body Can Say,” one of these elegies regarding Trethewey’s mother’s abused and dead body, referencing memorial statues found in cemeteries, has another history to tell. The poet describes a statue that shows a “man upright, though on his knees, spine // arched, head flung back, and, covering his eyes, / his fingers spread across his face” (9). As the statue is “in the courtyard / of the divinity school,” Trethewey wonders “what he might ask of God” (9). After the ekphrastic reading of the statue, she asks,

But what was my mother saying
that day not long before her death—her face tilted up
at me, her mouth falling open, wordless, just as
we open our mouths in church to take in the wafer. (9)

12Trethewey moves from the study of the stone gestures to her own private loss. There is a history, forgotten by many or never known, about the statue. It represents Jesus, praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. Designed by American figurative sculptor Walter Hancock, it was created in memory of Jonathan Myrick Daniels, a white twenty-six-year-old Episcopalian seminary student who was murdered in Alabama on August 20, 1965, a year before Trethewey was born. Daniels, another white man, and two African-American teenage girls tried to enter a store in Hayneville, Alabama, to buy soft drinks. A part-time deputy sheriff aimed his shotgun at the group on the store steps, ordering them to halt, to not enter. As Daniels pushed one of the girls to safety, the deputy shot him to death, as senselessly as Trethewey’s mother had been shot. Daniels had answered Martin Luther King, Jr.’s call for volunteers in the South, had been in Selma for the spring semester, and had returned in the summer to help with voter registration. This small, individual piece of Civil Rights history is layered into Trethewey’s poem of personal, public, and mythic grief. Trethewey, poet of history, does not distinguish these histories from one another. Elsewhere, perhaps everywhere in Native Guard, both sides of history — the personal and the public — are unveiled and then woven together.

13If the monuments, documents, and testaments of Native Guard reveal Trethewey’s history of her mother (as on the left wing of a triptych), Thrall exposes an equally complicated history of Trethewey and her father. The historical context shifts to the Enlightenment as the poems focus on knowledge and its relationship to love. The poems draw on visual records via the ekphrasis of paintings and photographs and scholarly works including Ilona Katzew’s Casta Painting: Images of Race in Eighteenth-Century Mexico. Thrall includes a four-poem sequence titled “Taxonomy” plus several other poems, such as “De Espangol y Negra; Mulata, drawn from Casta paintings.

14The collection is dedicated “to,” not “for,” her father. The opening poem, however, is “Elegy,” “For” her father, and so we discover immediately the complexity of Trethewey’s quest to find truth, to find empathy for her white father who, also a poet, labeled her his “crossbreed child” in a poem “Her Swing,” “for Natasha,” that he published and shamelessly read publically, standing beside her (E. Trethewey). In a three-section poem titled “The Americans,” “1. Dr. Samuel Adolphus Cartwright on Dissecting the White Negro, 1851” (33) turns us to Dr. Cartwright’s history of identifying, naming, and cures for diseases “peculiar” to the negro:

Dysethesia Aethiopica, or hebetude of mind and obtuse sensibility of body — a disease peculiar to negroes — called by overseers, rascality” and “Drapetomania or the disease causing negroes to run away […]. The cause in the most of cases, that induces the negro to run away from service, is as much a disease of the mind as any other species of mental alienation, and much more curable, as a general rule. (Cartwright 1851: n.d.)

15The poems “2. Blood, After George Fuller’s The Quadroon, 1880,” and “3. Help, 1968, After a photograph from The Americans by Robert Frank” continue the subject of Trethewey’s “obsessions,” “historical memory and historical erasure” (“Because” 107). She says “I am particularly interested in the Americas and a history that is rooted in colonialism, the language and iconography of empire, disenfranchisement, the enslavement of peoples, and the way that people were sectioned off because of blood” (ibid.). In “Blood,” Trethewey provides the taxonomy of beautiful quadroon, “the pathos of her condition: / black blood—that she cannot transcend it” (34). Here, too, Trethewey illuminates the historical erasure:

If not for the ray of light appearing as if from beyond
the canvas, we might miss them — three figures
in the near distance, small as afterthought. (34)

16She says she hates “the way Americans remember things, […] that so much of that memory is based upon a kind of willed forgetting and there’s a lot that gets left out — of the historical record, of textbooks, of public monuments. I wanted to tell a fuller version of what stories I have to add to the historical record” (“An Interview” 50). “Help, 1968” is also an ekphrastic poem, describing Frank’s photograph of the black nursemaid holding a white baby, but by the fourth line, Trethewey writes of herself: “I think of my mother and the year / we spent alone — my father at sea” (35). Trethewey was two years old. The poet returns to Frank’s photograph, but the last two words of the stanza, “That year” (35), recall the title “Help, 1968” and push us across a stanza break into Trethewey’s recovered memory of her mother, mistaken for her maid, and how, when told the truth, disbelieving strangers would press stray coins into Trethewey’s little hands:

I think of the betrayals of flesh, how
she must have tried to make of her face
an inscrutable mask and hold it there
as they pressed coins into my hands.
How like the woman in the photographs
he must have seemed, carrying me
each day — white in her arms — as if 
she were a prop: a black backdrop,
the dark foil in this American story. (36)

17Trethewey says she is cautious about being “self-indulgent” with her “own interior life” and her “own stories,” and explains, “so I turn to the external, which is history, as a way of looking outward. However, it is also a way to place my own stories in a larger historical context. A poem I write is not just about me; it is about national identity, not just regional but national, the history of people in relation to other people. I reach for these outward stories to make sense of my own life, and how my story intersects with a larger public history” (“Because”110).

18Another example of Trethewey inserting herself into the history depicted in her poems, of pulling us from the ekphrastically-rendered outside world into her personal memories, occurs in Thrall in the poem titled “Knowledge, After a chalk drawing by J. H. Hasselhorst, 1864.” The poem, twenty, step-down, unrhymed couplets, begins with indeterminacy and then proceeds with straightforward description: “Whoever she was, she comes to us like this: / lips parted, long hair spilling from the table” (28). The next couplet utilizes the tools of poetry — a simile, but still providing a visual image to the reader. The long hair spills from the table “like water from a pitcher, nipples drawn out / for inspection” (28). Trethewey describes the room, the men, their clothes, their attitudes, their tools, their imminent actions. After this ekphrastic description and details of unsuccessful attempts to name the female body — her choices of “Mary or Katherine or Elizabeth translated by the anatomist as “corpus, areola, vulva” — in the fourteenth couplet, Trethewey writes, “the anatomist’s blade opens a place in me” (29). The empiricists in Hasselhorst’s drawing become Trethewey’s father:

each learned man is my father
and I hear, again, his words—
I study
my crossbreed child
—misnomer
and taxonomy.” (30)

19Trethewey concludes, “his scalpel in hand like a pen // poised above me, aimed straight for my heart” (30). Moving in and out of the objective, the historical, the personal, and the self-examination, the speaker replaces the nineteenth-century scientist with her twentieth-century father, the woman on the table, with herself. The poem is stunning, praising the powerful men for their skill and learning while expressing equally the sentience of the enthralled woman. Ruth Richardson, reviewing a book titled Human Remains: Dissection and its Histories by Helen MacDonald that has Hasselhorst’s drawing on its dust jacket, but curiously not among its two dozen illustrations, writes that such images as Hasselhort’s

propagate notions of masculine scientific heroism in the 19th century, and can recognise, too, the ways in which artists were able to slip between categories of classification — science and pornography here — and how they endeavored to involve viewers in colluding with their own project, or undercut it. We can resist becoming voyeurs by analyzing what designs such images have upon us. (9)

20The “design” that this image has on Trethewey is to evoke the complex relationship that she has with her father as

he is all of them: the preoccupied man—
an artist, collector of experience; the skeptic angling
his head, his thoughts tilting toward
what I cannot know; the marshaller of knowledge,
knuckling down a stack of books; even
the dissector—his scalpel in hand like a pen
poised above me, aimed straight for my heart. (30)

21This goes directly to the point that Trethewey intentionally co-mingles art and reality, personal, and public, memory and history.

22In Thrall, Trethewey positions herself both between her father and her mother and also squarely facing her father whom she categorizes with the failed white men of the Enlightenment. In “Calling, Mexico, 1969,” for example, Trethewey begins with a seemingly autobiographical pilgrimage of mother and daughter: she writes, “my mother / kneeling at the altar of the Black Virgin” (66). Then her mother “as if she is already dead” rises so that Trethewey imagines “my father lifting me toward her outstretched arms” (66, 67). The poem begins with a question, however, alerting the reader to the instability of truth: “Why not make a fiction / of the mind’s fictions?” (66). The speaker/Trethewey finds that

What’s left is palimpsest — one memory
bleeding into another, overwriting it.” (
Ibid.)

23Personal and public, memory and history are mingled.

24In her personal story, which is, as she says, “the larger public history” as well, her father lacks knowledge (“An Interview” 49). In the poem “Enlightenment,” Trethewey and her father are touring Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home, where they had often debated Jefferson’s relationship with his slave Sally Hemming. Trethewey realizes that the “past holds us captive” and that her father has become a “rough outline” of an “old man” “needing to show me / the better measure of his heart, an equation // writ large at Monticello” (70). She makes a joke to lighten “this history / that links us—white father, black daughter— / even as it renders us other to each other” (71).

25Trethewey remarks that “so much of history and what gets remembered is about who has that documentary power; who’s actually writing it down. That’s who makes what we remember. Whoever erects the monuments makes the history” (“A Conversation” 28-29). “My project,” she says, has been and continues to be to try to find a way to restore lost narratives to our collective and public memory; things that are left out of authoritative histories. There are gaps that are there, there are these erasures that are just waiting to be filled in. I think in some ways I’m trying to record those things, but in the act of trying to do that I’m bringing that past to bear on this moment (“A Conversation” 20).

Cartwright, Samuel Adolphus, 1998 [1851], “Diseases and Peculiarities of the Negro Race,” Africans in America, Public Broadcasting System.

Friedlander, Lee & John Szarkowski, 1970, E. J. Bellocq Storyville Portraits, Boston: Little, Brown.

Katzew, Ilona, 2005, Casta Painting: Images of Race in Eighteenth-Century Mexico, New Haven, CN: Yale University Press.

In utrumque partes,” 1997, “Silva Rhetoricae,” (rhetoric.byu.edu).

MacDonald, Helen, 2005, Human Remains: Dissection and its Histories, New Haven, CN: Yale University Press.

Morrison, Toni, 1995, “The Site of Memory,” in William Zinsser (ed.), Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir, Boston, Houghton Mifflin.

Morrison, Toni, 2008 [1971], “What a Black Woman Thinks about Women’s Lib,” in Carolyn Denard (ed.), What Moves at the Margin: Selected Nonfiction, Jackson, University Press of Mississippi.

Richardson, Ruth, 2006, “Comparative Anatomy and the Ethics of Possession,” The Lancet 368:9530 2006, p. 109-110.

Trethewey, Eric, 1984, “Her Swing,” Dreaming of Rivers, Cleveland: Cleveland State University Poetry Center, p. 33-34.

Trethewey, Natasha, 2013 [2008], “Because of Blood: Natasha Trethewey’s Historical Memory,” Lisa DeVries, Conversations, p. 106-112.

Trethewey, Natasha, 2002, Bellocq’s Ophelia, St. Paul, MN: Graywolf.

Trethewey, Natasha, 2013 [2003], “A Conversation with Natasha Trethewey,” David Haney, Conversations, p. 18-36.

Trethewey, Natasha, 2006, Native Guard: Poems, Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Trethewey, Natasha, 2013 [2007], “An Interview with Natasha Trethewey,” Pearl Amelia McHaney, Conversations, p. 45-60.

Trethewey, Natasha, 2013 [2010], “Southern Crossings: An Interview with Natasha Trethewey,” Daniel Cross Turner, Conversations, p. 156-167.

Trethewey, Natasha, 2012, Thrall: Poems, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Trethewey, Natasha, 2013, Conversations with Natasha Trethewey, Joan Wylie Hall ed., Jackson, University Press of Mississippi.

Auteur

Georgia State University, Kenneth M. England Professor of Southern Literature, pmchaney@gsu.edu

Pearl McHaney is the Kenneth M. England Professor of Southern Literature at Georgia State University. She has authored many books, essays, and articles, including A Tyrannous Eye: Eudora Welty’s Nonfiction and Photography (University Press of Mississippi, 2014). She is also the founding editor of the Eudora Welty Review, an annual journal. Her research interests include Eudora Welty and other figures of southern literature as well, including William Faulkner, Barry Hannah, Kathryn Stockett, Natasha Trethewey, and Tennessee Williams. Pearl McHaney is the director of GSU’s Center for Collaborative and International Arts (CENCIA). With Audrey Goodman, she originated and directs the South Atlantic Center for the Institut des Amériques (SACIdA) which actively promotes college’s student and faculty exchange program with several universities in France and Europe.

Pearl McHaney occupe la chaire de littérature Kenneth M. England à Georgia State University. Elle est l’auteure de nombreux ouvrages, essais et articles, notamment A Tyrannous Eye: Eudora Welty’s Nonfiction and Photography (University Press of Mississippi, 2014). Elle est également la fondatrice de la revue annuelle Eudora Welty Review. Sa recherche porte sur les écrivains du Sud des États-Unis : Eudora Welty, William Faulkner, Barry Hannah, Kathryn Stockett, Natasha Trethewey et Tennessee Williams. Pearl McHaney est la directrice du CENCIA (Center for Collaborative and International Arts) à Georgia State University. Avec Audrey Goodman, elle a fondé et codirige la SACIdA (le South Atlantic Center du GIS Institut des Amériques), chargée de promouvoir les échanges internationaux enseignants et étudiants avec plusieurs universités en France et en Europe.

Pearl McHaney ocupa la cátedra de literatura Kenneth M. England en Georgia State University. Es autora de numerosos trabajos, ensayos y artículos, entre los cuales A Tyrannous Eye: Eudora Welty’s Nonfiction and Photography (University Press of Mississippi, 2014). Es también fundadora de la revista anual Eudora Welty Review. Su investigación se centra en los escritores del sur de los Estados Unidos: Eudora Welty, William Faulkner, Barry Hannah, Kathryn Stockett, Natasha Trethewey y Tennessee Williams. Pearl McHaney es directora del CENCIA (Center for Collaborative and International Arts) de Georgia State University. Con Audrey Googman fundó y co-dirige la SACIda (South Atlantic Center del GIS Institut des Amériques), se encarga de promover los intercambios internacionales entre catedráticos y estudiantes con diversas universidades en Francia y Europa.

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