Thursday, February 13, 2014

Toi and Me



Last night it was my great privilege to hear Toi Derricotte read at Babson College as part of the Thompson Poetry Series.

I worked at Babson for 10 years, so I know how much effort goes into bringing poetry to a business school. The students had been reading The Black Notebooks and much of her poetry before the event. So when Toi stepped to the side of the podium and asked for the houselights to be turned up, she took the reading to another level. The reading became a conversion. As she read from a particular passage in The Black Notebooks, she asked the audience what they would have done in her shoes. I wish I could capture the essence of the back and forth. I can only say that there was no hesitation from the Babson students. It was an great discussion on race and choice--one that should happen more often in our global society.

After the book signing, I had a chance to chat and take this picture. Toi reminded me that we've known each other for nearly 30 years. 30 years! She was my first writing professor Old Dominion University, the one who got me hooked on poetry. She would say things like, "Go sit a sensory deprivation tank and write about the experience." Often, Toi would quote Robert Creeley saying, "Sometimes, you just have to make an ass out of yourself." (Done!)

Cave Canem, of which she is cofounder, is now a thriving community for black poetry. She is living proof that you can use your life for the betterment of others. That you can take pain and ugliness and turn it into art. And by sharing your story, you draw others in and become stronger. Well, we were all drawn in last night.

Thanks, Toi, for a transformative experience at Babson.

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