Lucille Clifton

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Lucille Clifton
Lucille clifton.jpg
Lucille Clifton
Born (1936-06-27)June 27, 1936
Depew, New York, USA
Died February 13, 2010(2010-02-13) (aged 73)
Baltimore, Maryland, USA
Occupation Writer
Spouse(s) Fred James Clifton

Lucille Clifton (June 27, 1936, Depew, New York – February 13, 2010, Baltimore, Maryland[1]) was an American poet, writer, and educator from Buffalo, New York.[2][3][4] From 1979 to 1985 she was Poet Laureate of Maryland. Frequent topics in her poetry include the celebration of her African-American heritage, women's experience, and the female body.

Life and career[edit]

Lucille Clifton (born Thelma Lucille Sayles) grew up in Buffalo, New York, and graduated from Fosdick-Masten Park High School in 1953.[5] She went on to study on a scholarship at Howard University from 1953 to 1955, and after leaving over poor grades, studied at the State University of New York at Fredonia (near Buffalo).[5]

In 1958, she married Fred James Clifton, a professor of philosophy at the University of Buffalo, and a sculptor whose carvings depicted African faces. Lucille worked as a claims clerk in the New York State Division of Employment, Buffalo (1958–1960), and as literature assistant in the Office of Education in Washington, D.C. (1960–1971). Writer Ishmael Reed introduced Mrs. Clifton to her husband Fred while he was organizing the Buffalo Community Drama Workshop. Fred and Lucille Clifton starred in the group's version of The Glass Menagerie which was called "poetic and sensitive" by the Buffalo Evening News.

In 1966, Reed took some of Clifton's poems to Langston Hughes, who included them in his anthology The Poetry of the Negro. In 1967, the Cliftons moved to Baltimore, Maryland.[5] Her first poetry collection, Good Times, was published in 1969, and listed by the New York Times as one of the year's ten best books. From 1971 to 1974, Clifton was poet-in-residence at Coppin State College in Baltimore. From 1979 to 1985, she was Poet Laureate of the state of Maryland.[6] From 1982 to 1983, she was visiting writer at the Columbia University School of the Arts and at George Washington University. In 1984, her husband died of cancer.[5]

From 1985 to 1989, Clifton was a professor of literature and creative writing at the University of California, Santa Cruz.[7] She was Distinguished Professor of Humanities at St. Mary's College of Maryland. From 1995 to 1999, she was a visiting professor at Columbia University. In 2006, she was a fellow at Dartmouth College.

Themes[edit]

Plaque outside the New York Public Library

Lucille Clifton traced her family's roots to the West African Kingdom of Dahomey, now the Republic of Benin. Growing up she was told by her mother, "Be proud, you're from Dahomey women!"[8] She cites as one of her ancestors the first black woman to be "legally hanged" for manslaughter in the state of Kentucky during the time of Slavery in the United States. Girls in her family are born with an extra finger on each hand, a genetic trait known as polydactyly. Lucille's two extra fingers were amputated surgically when she was a small child, a common practice at that time for reasons of superstition and social stigma. Her "two ghost fingers" and their activities became a theme in her poetry and other writings. Health problems in her later years included painful gout which gave her some difficulty in walking.

Work[edit]

Her series of children's books about a young black boy began with 1970's Some of the Days of Everett Anderson. Everett Anderson, a recurring character in many of her books, spoke in authentic African-American dialect and dealt with real life social problems. Her work features in anthologies such as My Black Me: A Beginning Book of Black Poetry (ed. Arnold Adoff), A Poem of Her Own: Voices of American Women Yesterday and Today (ed. Catherine Clinton), Black Stars: African American Women Writers (ed. Brenda Scott Wilkinson) and Bedrock: Writers on the Wonders of Geology (Ed. Lauret E. Savoy, Eldridge M. Moores, and Judith E. Moores (Trinity University Press). Studies about her life and writings include Wild Blessings: The Poetry of Lucille Clifton (LSU Press, 2004) by Hilary Holladay, and Lucille Clifton: Her Life and Letters (Praeger, 2006) by Mary Jane Lupton.

Awards[edit]

She received a Creative Writing Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1970 and 1973, and a grant from the Academy of American Poets. She has received the Charity Randall prize, the Jerome J. Shestack Prize from the American Poetry Review, and an Emmy Award. Her children's book Everett Anderson's Good-bye won the 1984 Coretta Scott King Award. In 1988, Clifton became the first author to have two books of poetry named finalists for one year's Pulitzer Prize. (The award dates from 1918, the announcement of finalists from 1980.)[9] She won the 1991/1992 Shelley Memorial Award, the 1996 Lannan Literary Award for Poetry, and for Blessing the Boats: New and Collected Poems 1988–2000 the 2000 National Book Award for Poetry.[10] From 1999 to 2005, she served on the Board of Chancellors of the Academy of American Poets. In 2007, she won the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize; the $100,000 prize honors a living U.S. poet whose "lifetime accomplishments warrant extraordinary recognition." Clifton is set to receive the Robert Frost Medal for lifetime achievement posthumously, from the Poetry Society of America.[11]

Works[edit]

Poetry collections[edit]

Children's books[edit]

  • Three Wishes (Doubleday)
  • The Boy Who Didn't Believe In Spring (Penguin)
  • The Lucky Stone. Delacorte Press. 1979. ISBN 978-0-440-05122-0. ; Reprint Yearling Books, ISBN 978-0-307-53795-9
  • The Times They Used To Be (Henry Holt & Co)
  • All Us Come Cross the Water ( Henry Holt)
  • My Friend Jacob (Dutton)
  • Amifika (Dutton)
  • Sonora the Beautiful (Dutton)
  • The Black B C's (Dutton)
  • The Palm of My Heart: Poetry by African American Children. Introduction by Lucille Clifton (San Val)

The Everett Anderson series[edit]

  • Everett Anderson's Goodbye (Henry Holt)
  • One of the Problems of Everett Anderson (Henry Holt)
  • Everett Anderson's Friend (Henry Holt)
  • Everett Anderson's Christmas Coming (Henry Holt)
  • Everett Anderson's 1-2-3 (Henry Holt)
  • Everett Anderson's Year (Henry Holt)
  • Some of the Days of Everett Anderson (Henry Holt)
  • Everett Andersson's Nine Month Long (Henry Holt)

Nonfiction[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Rey, Jay (13 February 2010). "Clifton, honored poet from Buffalo, dies". The Buffalo News. Retrieved 14 February 2010. 
  2. ^ Obituary New York Times, February 17, 2010.
  3. ^ Obituary Washington Post, February 21, 2010.
  4. ^ Obituary Los Angeles Times, February 21, 2010.
  5. ^ a b c d 73 Poems for 73 Years, Hilary Holladay, James Madison University, September 21, 2010, p. 48.
  6. ^ "Maryland Poets Laureate," webpage of Maryland State Archives, retrieved May 27, 2007.
  7. ^ Maryland State Archives and Maryland Commission for Women. "Lucille Clifton, Maryland Women's Hall of Fame," webpage from the Maryland Women's Hall of Fame retrieved May 28, 2007.
  8. ^ Lupton (2006), p. 60
  9. ^ a b c "Fiction". Past winners & finalists by category. The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved 2012-04-08.
  10. ^ a b "National Book Awards – 20000". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-04-08.
    (With acceptance speech by Clifton and essay by Megan Snyder-Kamp from the Awards 60-year anniversary blog.)
  11. ^ "Lucille Clifton to receive Frost Centennial Medal posthumously". 

Further reading[edit]

  • Holladay, Hilary, Wild Blessings: The Poetry of Lucille Clifton, Louisiana State University Press, 2004 ISBN 978-0-8071-2987-6
  • Lupton, Mary Jane, Lucille Clifton: her life and letters, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2006, ISBN 0-275-98469-9

External links[edit]