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An Interior Journey

by Toi Derricotte

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-393-04544-7
Publisher: Norton

Poet Derricotte offers this portrait of a black woman's frustrating experience with racial prejudice from both outside and within her own people, and her own ambivalence about the color of her skin. This volume is largely comprised of the journals that Derricotte kept when she lived for the first time in a mostly white community. The author, who is light-skinned enough to ``pass'' when she wants, recounts keeping her dark-skinned husband away from real-estate brokers so that she could be shown better homes in nicer neighborhoods. This process secured her a house in an affluent suburb of New York but led to so much self-loathing and examination of her own feelings about the darker-skinned members of her race that she suffered a deep depression and ultimately separated from her husband. She wrote The Black Notebooks, she notes in her introductory essay, not out of ``desire'' but to ``save [her] life.'' At her best, Derricotte is reminiscent of Nella Larsen, for whom ``passing'' was a primary topic, and Doris Lessing in The Golden Notebooks, which is also about avoiding breakdown through writing. Some pieces in the collection are less cohesive than others and are subsequently less impressive from an artistic standpoint than pieces with a strong overarching theme. Typical of the latter group are ``The Club,'' which concerns Derricotte's and her husband's sojourn in the white suburbs and the country club that they were never invited to join, and ``Diaries at an Artists' Colony,'' with its collection of reactions from fellow colonists to her revelation of her racial background. ``Blacks in the U.'' and ``Face to Face,'' on the other hand, are more disjointed, but their point is not lost: It's not easy to be a black person in either a racially divided country or a color-conscious black community. A very strong first prose offering on an always provocative subject. (Author tour)