Document Type


Date of Degree

Summer 2014

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

American Studies

First Advisor

Bolton, Linda

First Committee Member

Adams, Bluford L

Second Committee Member

Rigal, Laura

Third Committee Member

Schwalm, Leslie

Fourth Committee Member

Stecopoulos, Harry


In placing Joy Harjo and Natasha Trethewey in conversation with each other, my dissertation analyzes - alongside their poetry and prose - monuments, paintings, television, film, photographs, and performance as connected to understanding the impact of historical legacies on lived experiences within the empire of U.S. America. Toni Morrison's concept of recovering the "unwritten interior life" of the slave experience - a life hidden within slave narratives - assists in understanding the historical poetics of Joy Harjo and Natasha Trethewey as artists engaged in similar projects of reclamation. For Harjo this entails shedding a light on the weight of Native American histories for the descendants of survivors while contesting the myths that abound within popular culture regarding Native peoples. Trethewey's work intervenes within the public memory of the nation by centering on the inner-lives of African Americans as well as other people of color, stressing their various gendered and racialized experiences.

The gaps within the records that each poet illuminates do not constitute a failure of history, per se, but rather emphasize limitations concerning traditional methodologies of history-writing. In order to further expand on this argument, throughout my work I rely upon certain ideas from 20th century ethical philosopher Emmanuel Levinas regarding our obligations to the past of the Other as well as the potential violence inherent within Western philosophical rhetoric regarding the Other. "Tending to the Past" argues that due to the gaps within the archival records we need multiple ways of approaching our history. The absence within the archives of the "emotional truths" or "interior lives" of historical subjects proves to emphasize the necessity for the poetic interventions of Joy Harjo and Natasha Trethewey.


American Civil War, Hurricane Katrina, Joy Harjo, Muskogee/Creek identity, Natasha Trethewey, Redstick Revolt


ix, 295 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 288-295).


Copyright 2014 Eloisa Valenzuela-Mendoza