On April 12, 1941, Toi Derricotte was born in Hamtramck, Michigan. She earned her BA in special education from Wayne State University and her MA in English literature from New York University.
Derricotte’s books of poetry include I: New & Selected Poems (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019), which was a finalist for the 2019 National Book Award in Poetry; The Undertaker’s Daughter (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2011); and Tender (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1997), which won the 1998 Paterson Poetry Prize. She is also the author of a literary memoir, The Black Notebooks (W. W. Norton, 1997), which won the 1998 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Nonfiction.
Together with Cornelius Eady, Derricotte cofounded the Cave Canem Foundation in 1996, a national poetry organization committed to cultivating the artistic and professional growth of African American poets. In 2016, she and Eady accepted the National Book Foundation’s Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community on behalf of Cave Canem.
About her work, the poet Sharon Olds has said,
Toi Derricotte’s poems show us our underlife, tender and dreadful. And they are vibrant poems, poems in the voice of the living creature, the one who escaped—and paused, and turned back, and saw, and cried out. This is one of the most beautiful and necessary voices in American poetry today.
Derricotte’s honors include the Barnes & Noble Writers for Writers Award from Poets & Writers, the Distinguished Pioneering of the Arts Award from the United Black Artists, the Lucille Medwick Memorial Award and the Frost Medal from the Poetry Society of America, the Paterson Award for Sustained Literary Achievement for Previous Winners of The Paterson Poetry Prize, the PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry, two Pushcart Prizes, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Rockefeller Foundation. In 2021, she received the Wallace Stevens Award, given annually by the Academy of American Poets to recognize outstanding and proven mastery in the art of poetry. In 2023, she received the Pegasus Award for Service in Poetry, alongside Eady.
Derricotte served as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 2012 to 2017 and is professor emerita of English at the University of Pittsburgh.