Poet, essayist Toi Derricotte to speak at URI
Visit culminates Community Conversations
KINGSTON, R.I.-- October 15, 1998 -- Toi Derricotte, distinguished poet
and essayist, will speak at the University of Rhode Island on Monday, October
26. The occasion of her visit is the recent publication of Derricotte's
widely-acclaimed memoir, The Black Notebooks. Derricotte will share
some personal experiences, read some of her poetry, and engage the audience
in a discussion about race.
Derricotte, who is a visiting professor at Mills College in Oakland,
Calif., will speak at 7:30 p.m. in Edwards Auditorium, located on Upper
College Road. Her talk is free and open to the public.
Derricotte's visit is jointly sponsored by URI, the State Council of
Churches, and the National Conference for Community and Justice.
The Black Notebooks is a profoundly personal document in which
Derricotte, a light-skinned black woman, delves into her contradictory feelings
about "passing" for white and her recurring longings to "escape
from blackness." Her painfully honest revelations shines a telling
light on how white skin functions in a multiracial world and what whiteness
sees and can't see. The book shows how whites harm both themselves and blacks
when they dismiss black claims that white vision is defective.
"Derricotte moves us to think about our own lives, the lives of
others, and our life together without asking us to see past race or through
race," says URI Sociology Professor Calvin B. Peters. "Rather
she asks us to take our own interior journey with race as a constant."
Impressed with her work, Peters invited Derricotte to URI, asking her
to speak to his 500 students enrolled in his sociology course who have read
The Black Notebooks, and to share her important message with the
"Race is a central factor of our daily activities," says the
URI professor. "It is a
presence to be reckoned with. It's not a matter that 'they' have race
and 'we' don't. It's impossible to make sense of life together without
taking race into account."
Peters says our history and our lives are shaped by race. As a white
man, Peters is free to buy the house he wants, shop in a store without being
followed, and join any country club he wishes. Race seems invisible. On
the other hand, a black man's experiences are dramatically different.
Prior to Derricotte's visit, a series of on-going Community Conversations,
sponsored by URI, are being held at the URI Providence Center, the Cranston
main library, and the Rochambeau library in Providence. Each Conversation
is facilitated by a member of the URI community often in collaboration with
others. Each consists of about 15 citizens who have been provided with Derricotte's
memoir and other materials.
The citizens represent a wide diversity of ideas, backgrounds, and interests.
Community Conversations has no agenda other than to bring Rhode Islanders
together in free-ranging discussions about what can be done to promote a
good and just society.
"It's a time to spend together reflecting on issues that affect
our lives to see strengths in others and consider changes. If we are going
to build a society that isn't sound-bite oriented, we need to talk across
the boundaries, sensibly, thoughtfully, respectfully. It is our hope that
participants in these conversations will share their thoughts with friends
and organizations so that a web of conversation emerges and we get the society
we all desire," says Peters.
URI began the Community Conversations project in 1996 to encourage discussions
centering on issues of social justice, moral responsibility, and the relationship
of diversity to the common good. That year, the conversations were stimulated
by the works of author Jonathan Kozol (Amazing Grace and Savage
Inequalities). Last year, Martin E. Marty's work (The One and the
Many: America's Struggle for the Common Good) served as backdrop for
the conversations. Both Kozol and Marty appeared at URI.
The Rhode Island Committee for the Humanities has provided significant
financial support to sustain the Conversations groups.
Other sponsors are URI's College of Arts and Sciences, College of Human
Science and Services, Chaplains, and the Parents Fund.
For More Information: Jan Sawyer, 401-874-2116