Toi Derricotte

in Hamtramck, Michigan, The United States
April 12, 1941



Toi Derricotte is the author of The Undertaker’s Daughter (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2011) and four earlier collections of poetry, including Tender, winner of the 1998 Paterson Poetry Prize. Her literary memoir, The Black Notebooks (W.W. Norton), received the 1998 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Non-Fiction and was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. Her honors include, among many others, the 2012 Paterson Poetry Prize for Sustained Literary Achievement, the 2012 PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry, the Lucille Medwick Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America, two Pushcart Prizes and the Distinguished Pioneering of the Arts Award from the United Black Artists.

Derricotte is the co-founder of Cave Canem Foundation (with Corneli

Average rating: 4.24 · 1,946 ratings · 139 reviews · 21 distinct worksSimilar authors
The Black Notebooks: An Int...

4.07 avg rating — 444 ratings — published 1997 — 2 editions
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The Undertaker's Daughter

3.97 avg rating — 94 ratings — published 2011 — 4 editions
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4.17 avg rating — 89 ratings — published 1997 — 5 editions
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I: New and Selected Poems

4.41 avg rating — 54 ratings — published 2019 — 5 editions
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Natural Birth

4.22 avg rating — 49 ratings — published 1983 — 4 editions
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4.20 avg rating — 51 ratings — published 1989 — 5 editions
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Gathering Ground: A Reader ...

4.61 avg rating — 31 ratings — published 2006 — 2 editions
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The Empress Of The Death House

4.17 avg rating — 18 ratings
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Home Girls: A Black Feminis...

4.34 avg rating — 916 ratings — published 1983 — 4 editions
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I Am the Darker Brother: An...

4.24 avg rating — 130 ratings — published 1968 — 11 editions
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“The job of the artist is not to resolve or beautify, but to hold complexities, to see and make clear.”
Toi Derricotte

“Poem for My Father

You closed the door.
I was on the other side,

It was black in your mind.
Blacker than burned-out fire.
Blacker than poison.

Outside everything looked the same.
You looked the same.
You walked in your body like a living man.
But you were not.

would you not speak to me for weeks
would you hang your coat in the closet without saying hello
would you find a shoe out of place and beat me
would you come home late
would i lose the key
would you find my glasses in the garbage
would you put me on your knee
would you read the bible to me in your smoking jacket after your mother died
would you come home drunk and snore
would you beat me on the legs
would you carry me up the stairs by my hair so that my feet never touch the bottom
would you make everything worse
to make everything better

i believe in god, the father almighty,
the maker of heaven, the maker
of my heaven and my hell.

would you beat my mother
would you beat her till she cries like a rabbit
would you beat her in a corner of the kitchen
while i am in the bathroom trying to bury my head underwater
would you carry her to the bed
would you put cotton and alcohol on her swollen head
would you make love to her hair
would you caress her hair
would you rub her breasts with ben gay until she stinks
would you sleep in the other room in the bed next to me while she sleeps on the pull-out cot
would you come on the sheet while i am sleeping. later i look for the spot
would you go to embalming school with the last of my mother's money
would i see your picture in the book with all the other black boys you were the handsomest
would you make the dead look beautiful
would the men at the elks club
would the rich ladies at funerals
would the ugly drunk winos on the street
know ben
pretty ben
regular ben

would your father leave you when you were three with a mother who threw butcher knives at you
would he leave you with her screaming red hair
would he leave you to be smothered by a pillow she put over your head
would he send for you during the summer like a rich uncle
would you come in pretty corduroys until you were nine and never heard from him again

would you hate him
would you hate him every time you dragged hundred pound cartons of soap down the stairs into white ladies' basements
would you hate him for fucking the woman who gave birth to you
hate him flying by her house in the red truck so that other father threw down his hat in the street and stomped on it angry like we never saw him
(bye bye
to the will of grandpa
bye bye to the family fortune
bye bye when he stompled that hat,
to the gold watch,
embalmer's palace,
grandbaby's college)
mother crying silently, making floating island
sending it up to the old man's ulcer
would grandmother's diamonds
close their heartsparks
in the corner of the closet
yellow like the eyes of cockroaches?

Old man whose sperm swims in my veins,

come back in love, come back in pain.”
Toi Derricotte
tags: poetry

“-----What is more punished
among the angry than anger? among the unsatisfied than desire?
among the hate-filled
than hate? among the frightened than fear?

Toi Derricotte

Topics Mentioning This Author

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Literary Fiction ...: memoirs or fictional accounts of mental pain by african americans 27 310 Nov 27, 2010 07:46PM  
CanadianContent: January 2017 - Resolution Non-Fiction Reads 66 46 Feb 01, 2017 07:17PM  
Literary Fiction ...: Reading Poetry 9 99 Jun 06, 2020 10:53AM  

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