Thylias Moss was given her unique name by her father. The child of African American working-class parents, Thylias grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, in a loving family. In this memoir she probes her silent submission to several years of physical and sexual abuse by her teenaged babysitter, who was supposed to care for her after school. This abuse so destroyed young Thylias’ self-esteem that as a teenager she was sexually exploited by two older men and underwent a traumatic late-term abortion. Even as an adult, she cannot satisfactorily explain why she did not report her torment to her parents, except to believe that they could not have comprehended the nature of such evil.
In elliptical, poetic language, Moss uses startling imagery to express the profound mystery of her life in TALE OF A SKY-BLUE DRESS. Her salvation, in childhood and now as a wife, mother, and English professor at the University of Michigan, was—and is—her gift for language. Her tortured childhood is, she says, reflected in her poetry, leaving her “with a need to make sense of humanity’s defects and psychologies.” Her love of beauty, expressed in an explosion of images, is elicited by the world of nature, science, and the people she observes with such keen insight. In her journey toward redemption, she describes the cruelty of the public schools, slow to recognize giftedness in a black child, and the anti-intellectualism of the fundamentalist church that suppressed her aspirations.
With this work, and through the love of the compassionate man she married, Moss has reclaimed her self- identity. Moss writes in paradoxes, her two most common words being “brutality” and “splendor.” Her six collections of poetry have been recognized with Guggenheim and NEA Fellowships, and a MacArthur Award.