Toi Derricotte

Toi Derricotte

Friday, February 26, 2021 7:30 pm PST

02/26/2021 7:30 pm 02/26/2021 America/Los_Angeles Toi Derricotte Hugo House—Lapis Theater

At Hugo House—Lapis Theater

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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.

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.

Event Details

Hugo House—Lapis Theater

1634 11th Ave
Seattle, WA 98122

Know Before You Go

Don't have your tickets? Need to access the online event?

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

Your e-tickets, which come attached in a PDF with your ticket order confirmation email, will contain your digital access password as well. 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 on stage!


Open Books will have copies of Smith’s work available for purchase at their table in the lobby.

The event will conclude with a book signing.

Patrons & Grand Patrons, you're invited to Happy Hour!

Patrons & Grand Patrons, join us for light bites and wine down the street at The Tin Table (915 E Pine St, Seattle, WA 98122) from 6:30 to 7:15 p.m.

Transportation & Parking

Public transportation: The new Hugo House is a short walk from the Capitol Hill light rail station and the First Hill streetcar (Broadway & Pike-Pine stop), and within a half-mile of many buses, including routes 8, 10, 11, 43, 49, and 60.

Parking: A pay parking lot is available nearby at the Greek Orthodox Church at 13th and Howell, or at Seattle Central College’s Harvard Garage at 1609 Harvard Avenue. Street parking is also available but not guaranteed. The garage beneath Hugo House is for tenants only.


SAL is for everyone. We want all audience members to be able to experience our lectures and readings regardless of accessibility concerns. Accessibility services at our venues are provided at no cost to ticket holders. If you find you need to sit closer to the stage to accommodate your needs but find the cost of a Patron ticket prohibitive, then please contact us—we will seat you where you need to be, regardless of cost.

Open Captioning occurs at every event that takes place at Benaroya Hall. It is also always available upon request for all events in our other halls, with a two-week minimum notice. To make a request for Open Captioning services, please contact us at or 206.621.2230×10.

Assistive Listening Devices, including Hearing Loop Assisted Listening Systems at Benaroya Hall and Town Hall, are available at all of our venues. If you would like more information, please contact us at or 206.621.2230×10.

ASL-Interpretated Events are always available upon request, with a two-week minimum notice. To make a request for ASL interpretation, please contact us at or 206.621.2230×10.

Wheelchair Accessible Ticketing is available in all sections at our venues, and and our venues are fully accessible to ticket holders with physical mobility concerns. If you would like more information, please contact us at or 206.621.2230×10.

For any further questions or requests, or to offer Seattle Arts & Lectures feedback on how we can be more accessible and inclusive, please reach out to our Patron Services Manager at or 206.621.2230×10.


Poetry Series Sponsor
Charles B. & Barbara Wright