Toi Derricotte is one of America’s premier poets, the author of five collections of poetry and a memoir, most recently, The Undertaker’s Daughter (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2011). The film chronicles Derricotte’s history, growing up in Detroit, her first marriage to artist Clarence Reese, the birth of her son, Tony, her marriage to Bruce Derricotte and their move to New York, and, later, New Jersey. Then comes the story her creations, book by book. First came the Empress of the Death House (1978). Then Natural Birth (1983), Captivity (1989), Tender (1997), The Black Notebooks (1997), and The Undertaker’s Daughter (2011). It also covers her career as a university professor—20-plus years at the University of Pittsburgh—and as a co-founder (with Cornelius Eady and Sarah Micklin) of Cave Canem in 1996. At the heart of the film is the story of her life fueling her creativity. The result is art. In the process we hear from Cornelius Eady, Desiree Cooper, David Bartholomae, Terry Blackhawk, Ed Ochester, Terrance Hayes, Naomi Long Madgett, Nicole Sealey, Tony Derricotte, Benjamin “Jay” Webster, Jr., Sister Kathleen Voss, Diane Samuels, and Henry Reese. With interlocutor Ron Primeau, Ph.D.
The film was made possible in part through support from the Michigan Humanities Council and the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences at the University of Pittsburgh. At the top of this page is an eleven-minute trailer…it’s the start of the film. The total runs to a little less than two hours…maybe 15 seconds less. It’s an intimate portrait of the poet and how she took all that has happened in her life–the good and the bad–and fashioned it into her own very personal art.
This is producer David Schock’s third poetry documentary. The first was Jump Back Honey: The Poetry an Performance of Herbert Woodward Martin and the second was StarbyStar: Naomi Long Madgett, Poet and Publisher. All three poets are linked by Madgett’s publishing, and a fierce determination to write their own stories and defy categories.