Toi Derricotte: Online
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Toi Derricotte: Online

Past Event: Friday, February 26, 2021


Award-winning poet, educator, and Cave Canem co-founder Toi Derricotte bravely tackles difficult and universal subject matter such as violence, racism, motherhood, and identity through an autobiographical lens. Q&A with Anastacia-Reneé. Although this event has passed, you can still purchase a digital pass to view it through March 5 at 7:30 p.m. The event will be available to watch until 12:01 a.m. on March 6.

This event is online-only and pre-recorded.

Toi Derricotte is the author of “I”: New and Selected Poems (2019), a finalist for the 2019 National Book Award, The Undertaker’s Daughter (2011), Natural Birth (2000), Tender (1997), winner of the Paterson Poetry Prize, and Captivity (1989). She is also the author of The Black Notebooks (1999), winner of the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Non-Fiction. Her poems have appeared in Best American Poetry 2019, The New Yorker, American Poetry Review, Callaloo, The Paris Review, and many others. She is the recipient of three Pushcart Prizes, the PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry, the Lucille Medwick Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation, among other honors.

She is also the founder, along with poet Cornelius Eady, of Cave Canem, the preeminent organization devoted to the development and support of Black poetry in the United States. Cave Canem’s work has changed the landscape of American poetry, and produced Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winning poets, in addition to winners of the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award, the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award, the Whiting Writers’ Award, the Poetry Society of America’s Norma Farber First Book Award, the NAACP Image Award, the Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets, the National Poetry Series, and Ruth Lilly and Lannan fellowships.

In a discussion about the challenges of creating The Undertaker’s Daughter, which incorporates both poetry and prose, she notes, “To make the best art, you have to be willing to sacrifice the art. I mean to really make the best, you have to even have “what’s art” up for grabs at all times. That’s why there is prose in that book, because I couldn’t get it to be other than that. I had to challenge my own definition, and so in these ways I think whatever you’re doing…to grow as human beings, we have to keep challenging our own definitions and our own safety in those definitions. And so it’s just sort of aligning yourself with the universe anyway, because things are always changing.”

About the impetus behind the founding of Cave Canem, she describes her early days as a poet: “When I first started out as a poet, I was afraid of going to an artist colony because I was always the only person of color. The first time I went to one was in 1984. The day I arrived another black poet left. My whole time there, I was praying that another black poet wouldn’t come on the day I left—and they did. That’s the way people integrated then: one person at a time. It was degrading and not very compassionate. Cave Canem gives poets a chance to talk about these types of experiences and form their own community. This way they know they are not alone and they are much more comfortable even in situations where they are the only person of color.”

A beloved and respected mentor to a generation of Black poets, she has  been awarded the National Book Foundation’s Literarian Award for service to the literary community, and the Elizabeth Kray Award for service to the field of poetry from Poets House.

She is professor emerita at the University of Pittsburgh, and a former chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. Born and raised in Detroit, she currently lives in Pittsburgh.

Anastacia-Reneé, our Q&A moderator for the evening, is a writer, educator, interdisciplinary artist, TEDx Speaker and podcaster. She is a 2020 Arc Fellow(4Culture) and Jack Straw Curator. Reneé is the recipient of the James W. Ray Distinguished Artist Award for Washington Artist (2018), Seattle Civic Poet (2017-2019), and Poet-in-Residence at Hugo House (2015-2017). Reneé has received fellowships and residencies from Cave Canem, Hedgebrook, VONA, Ragdale, Mineral School, and The New Orleans Writers Residency. Her poems and essays have been anthologized in Furious Flower: Seeding the Future of African American Poetry, Spirited Stone: Lessons from Kubota’s Garden, Seismic: Seattle City of Literature, and her poetry and fiction have appeared in Spark, Foglifter, Auburn Avenue, Catapult, Alta, Torch, and many more.

Event Details

Know Before You Go

Need access to the digital event?

Most tickets have been emailed for this event, so be sure to check your inbox for an email from Call us at 206-621-2230 x10 if you can’t find them.

Your e-tickets, which come attached in a PDF with your ticket order confirmation email as well, will contain your digital access password. Return to the event page the night of the event at and enter the password where prompted. The program begins at 7:30 p.m. (PST) and will be available for viewing for a week after the event.

SAL will also send an email the day of the event, containing the same information. If you have opted out of receiving SAL emails, you will miss this important information—please email us at and we will assist you.

Have a question for the speaker?

Want to ask Toi Derricotte something? Send your question to SAL’s Associate Director at—it might be asked during the event!


Open Books will have copies of Derricotte’s work available for purchase online.


Closed Captioning is an option for people who have hearing loss, where captioning displays the words that are spoken or sung at the bottom of the video. Captioning is available for all online events; click the “CC” button to view captions during the event.

Sign Language Interpretation is available upon request for Deaf, DeafBlind, and hard of hearing individuals at online events. To make a request for ASL interpretation, please contact us at or 206.621.2230×10, or select Sign Language Interpretation from the Accessibility section during your ticket checkout process, and we will reach out to you to confirm details. Please note: we appreciate a two-week advance notice to allow us time to secure interpretation.

We are pleased to offer these accessibility services for online events, and they are provided at no additional cost to ticket holders. Please contact us with any questions and feedback about how we can be more accessible and inclusive. Our Patron Services Manager is available at, or Monday-Friday from 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. at 206.621.2230×10. For more accessibility information, please head to


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