Born April 12, 1941, into a Detroit family separated from most of the city’s African American community by class and lighter skin, Toinette Derricotte (then Webster) wrote as a way to find solace in an existence filled with alienation. Her parents, Benjamin Sweeney Webster, a mortician, and Antonia Banquet Webster Cyrus, a systems analyst, divorced when she was a teenager. The young girl quickly learned to hide her thoughts on the page.
Writing was a first passion, but after high school, the shy teen studied psychology at Wayne State University with visions of a doctorate. Plans changed in December, 1961, when she gave birth to son Anthony, and in July, 1962, Derricotte married artist Clarence Reese. The union lasted two years. In 1967, she married banker Bruce Derricotte. They separated in 1991.
Parenthood’s realities led Derricotte to major in special education. She started teaching in 1964 with the Manpower Program. She finished a bachelor’s degree in 1965. In 1966, Derricotte became a teacher for mentally and emotionally retarded students at Detroit’s Farand School. In 1969, Derricotte left her hometown to teach remedial reading at Jefferson School in Teaneck, New Jersey. The job lasted a year.
She taught for money, but always wrote. In 1973, Derricotte began a four-year stint on the New York Quarterly staff. The following year she started a fifteen-year residency with the New Jersey State Council on the Arts...
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