A Toast in the House of Friends

Poetry by Akilah Oliver

February 1, 2009 • 6 x 9 • 100 pages • 978-1-56689-222-3

An erudite, gripping manifesto of grief.

Written for her son, Oluchi McDonald (1982-2003), Oliver’s poems incorporate prose, theory, and lyric performance into a powerful testimony of loss and longing. In their journey through the borderlands of sorrow, they grapple with violence, find expression in chants, and, like the graffiti she analyzes, become a place of public and artistic memorial. “If memory is the act of bearing witness,” she writes, “then the dream is a friend driving us somewhere.”

About the Author

Akilah Oliver (1961-2011) was the author of two poetry collections and four chapbooks. Her most recent poetry book, A Toast in the House of Friends, (Coffee House Press, 2009) employs prose, theory, and lyric performance frameworks to investigate mourning and retrievability. Her first book, the she said dialogues: flesh memory (Smokeproof/Erudite Fangs, 1999), was awarded the PEN Beyond Margins Award. Harryette Mullen states of the she said dialogues, “Akilah Oliver surveys the complex terrain of identity and sexuality with a concise intellectually engaged poetic language.” Her chapbooks are A Collection of Objects (Tente Press, 2010), a(A)ugust (Yo-Yo Labs), and The Putterer’s Notebook (Belladonna, 2007).

Born and raised in Los Angeles, she has been the artist-in-residence at Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center in Los Angeles, the curator of the Poetry Project’s Monday Night Reading Series, and has received grants from the California Arts Council, The Flintridge Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation. Oliver has been on the faculty of the University of Colorado, Boulder, Department of Writing and Poetics at Naropa University, Long Island University (as the Visiting Distinguished Author, MFA Creative Writing Program), and LaGuardia Community College. At the time of her death in 2011, she was a professor at Pratt Art Institute in Brooklyn, New York, in the Humanities and Media Studies Department and a PhD candidate at the European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland.


A Toast in the House of Friends brings us back to life via the world of death and dream. . . . It is an extraordinary gift for everyone, language pushing beyond itself into the aura of holy graffiti in the big night.” —Alice Notley

“The ceremony of sorrow is performed with a measured, defiant acknowledgment that makes words charms, talismans of the fallen world. This poetry is a holding space, a folded grace, in which objects held most dear disappear to return as radiant moments of memory’s forgiving home.” —Charles Bernstein

“[Oliver’s] innovative blend of poetry and prose is an attempt to discover a new, more genuine language, one that can dampen sorrow while bearing witness to unfathomable loss.” —Bookforum

“When Oliver presents her experiences in metaphor-rich language, the reader feels what she feels: incredible loss, infinite pain.” —Library Journal

“A haunting tribute. . . . Oliver creatively uses words and structure to create her own expression. . . . Deeply touching.” —Feminist Review

A Toast in the House of Friends is written in a free-wheeling hand that evinces distinct originality. Oliver is a rhythmic writer, and an exceptional one at that. She strikes the cadence of each piece so effectively, you can feel the poem on the page.” —Twin Cities Daily Planet