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AfriGeneas Writers Forum

Voices of Colour

Interview with Toi Derricotte, Professor of English and writer.
By Shelley Walia

I remember the very day when I became coloured.
- Zora Neale Hurston

In her convincing and passionate work on what it means to be `black' in the multicultural American society, Toi Derricotte, Professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh, interrogates the social and cultural history of her past to tell the story of racial discrimination, of human misery and of the tragedy faced by her people. Several writers have worked to oppose and expose ethnic differences and discrimination, but Derricotte's writings bring out the message of suffering and disgust, of fear and loneliness, with poise. Fiercely expository and brilliant in their concern for recognition, her poetry and fictional writing deserve the honour they have received. Her scholarship and handwork go a long way in bringing alive an experience that underpins marginalised writings struggling to voice a moral and political philosophy.

Toi Derricotte comes from a middle-class African-American ancestry. She had a disturbed childhood, with her parents divorced and a doting grandmother who died leaving her insecure and lonely in a world where she craved to be with people. Living an empty life shared only with cousins, she felt a deep urge to voice her inner turmoil, which found an outlet in her poetry that she began to write at the early age of 10. She only once dared to show her poems to a cousin whose strong disapproval of them made her draw back from any further sharing of her writings with anyone until she was in her late 20s. Her studies at Wayne State University in Detroit came to an abrupt end when she had a child at the age of 20 and had to fend for herself. For the next 20 years she taught in a school and then joined a writers' workshop in Manhattan, New York. At the age of 43 she finally completed her masters in Creative Writing from New York University.

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Voices of Colour
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18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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