Phillippa Yaa De Villiers is a South African poet and performance artist. She was born in 1966, at the height of apartheid, as a “mixed” baby. Her mother was black African from Ghana, and her father was white Australian.
Phillippa was adopted by the physical anthropologist who examined her. She was identified as “Mediterranian” so no one would be suspicious of her true Mixed identity. In her one-woman show “Original Skin,” Phillippa describes her life story. She describes how her parents constantly denied she was “coloured” to suspecting neighbors, busdrivers, or passerbyers. Phillippa grew up believing she was monoracial white. However, she wrestled with experiences like being rejected from the “white” bus and being told to wait for the “coloured” bus on the first day of school.
When Phillippa was 20-years-old, her parents finally told her she had been adopted and was in fact mixed. One of the biggest reasons Phillippa stepped into performance poetry was because in her words, “there was no other vessel that could contain the intensity of that moon-on-the-water loneliness.” Poetry has served as a medium for the spectrum of emotions and processing she has had to work through.
Phillippa Yaa De Villiers studied journalism at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa. De Villiers has her degree in Dramatic Art and Scriptwriting from the University of Witwatersrand, South Africa. Additionally, she attended and graduated from the Lecoq International School of Theater in Paris, France. De Villiers had plans of becoming an actress, and she began her career in 1998 upon returning to South Africa. However, she was soon diagnosed with Bell’s Palsy and transitioned to a career from acting to writing. For eight years, De Villiers was a part of the writing team for the South African television show Score. She also began writing poetry, and her first volume was published in 2006 entitled Taller than Buildings.
In addition to performance poetry and writing, Phillippa Yaa De Villiers gives back to the future generations of black writers in South Africa. She participates in various speaking and teaching engagements. In the photo above, De Villiers is teaching a creative writing class at the Abantu Book Festival. In an interview, De Villiers spoke about how excited she was to be a part of a literary festival that is specifically for black communities.
I think Phillippa Yaa De Villiers is an important addition to our working against the Single-Story narrative of the global portrayal of Africa. She embodies a complicated and painful history in her biraciality. She is both the conquered and the conqueror. I became interested in Phillippa especially when I learned she was biracial. While we both have very different backgrounds, I resonate with her struggle to find identity that exists in her poems. Spoken word poetry is a medium I also have used to express myself. I think Phillippa empowers the biracial community to take ownership of their own complex, painful and beautiful narratives.
Abantu Book Festival. ” Throwback: Phillippa Yaa De Villiers teaching Creative Writing alongside Angela Makholwa on the first day of
#AbantuBookFest.” Twitter, 27 April, 2017, https://twitter.com/abantu_/status/857632404869087232 . 5 November, 2019.
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Moosa, Fatima. “Phillippa Yaa De Villiers wants the Abantu Book Festival to make reading and writing a priority in SA.” The Daily Vox, The Daily Vox – Citizen, 9 December, 2016, https://www.thedailyvox.co.za/phillippa-yaa-de-villiers-wants-abantu-book-festival-make-reading-writing-priority-sa/ . 5 November, 2019.
“Phillippa Yaa De Villiers.” The Poetry Archive, The Poetry Archive, n.d., https://www.poetryarchive.org/poet/phillippa-yaa-de-villiers. 5 November, 2019.
“Phillippa Yaa De Villiers.” Poets on Adoption, Blogger, 11 April, 2011, http://poetsonadoption.blogspot.com/2011/04/phillippa-yaa-de-villiers.html. 5 November, 2019.
Yaa de Villiers, Phillippa. “Phillippa Yaa De Villiers performs Original Skin.” YouTube, YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tjt9DBDrY1M. 5 November, 2019.