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Poems about the Body
Tribute to Lucille Clifton
by Gerald Stern
Tribute to Lucille Clifton
by Rita Dove
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Modern American Poetry: Lucille Clifton
Resources prepared and compiled by Cary Nelson.
Tribute to Lucille Clifton
A tribute to Clifton by Afaa M. Weaver, published in The California Journal of Poetics
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Lucille Clifton
photo Dorothy Alexander

Lucille Clifton

Lucille Clifton was born in Depew, New York, on June 27, 1936. Her first book of poems, Good Times, was rated one of the best books of the year by the New York Times in 1969.

Clifton remained employed in state and federal government positions until 1971, when she became a writer in residence at Coppin State College in Baltimore, Maryland, where she completed two collections: Good News About the Earth (Random House, 1972) and An Ordinary Woman (1974).

She has gone on to write several other collections of poetry, including Voices (BOA Editions, 2008); Mercy (2004); Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems 1988-2000 (2000), which won the National Book Award; The Terrible Stories (1995), which was nominated for the National Book Award; The Book of Light (Copper Canyon Press, 1993); Quilting: Poems 1987-1990 (1991); Next: New Poems (1987)

Her collection Good Woman: Poems and a Memoir 1969-1980 (1987) was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize; Two-Headed Woman (1980), also a Pulitzer Prize nominee, was the recipient of the University of Massachusetts Press Juniper Prize. She has also written Generations: A Memoir (1976) and more than sixteen books for children, written expressly for an African-American audience.

Of her work, Rita Dove has written:

"In contrast to much of the poetry being written today—intellectualized lyricism characterized by an application of inductive thought to unusual images—Lucille Clifton's poems are compact and self-sufficient...Her revelations then resemble the epiphanies of childhood and early adolescence, when one's lack of preconceptions about the self allowed for brilliant slippage into the metaphysical, a glimpse into an egoless, utterly thingful and serene world."

Her honors include an Emmy Award from the American Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, a Lannan Literary Award, two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Shelley Memorial Award, the YM-YWHA Poetry Center Discovery Award, and the 2007 Ruth Lilly Prize.

In 1999, she was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. She has served as Poet Laureate for the State of Maryland and Distinguished Professor of Humanities at St. Mary's College of Maryland.

After a long battle with cancer, Lucille Clifton died on February 13, 2010, at the age of 73.


Multimedia

From the Image Archive
Poems by
Lucille Clifton

4/30/92 for rodney king
blessing the boats
cutting greens
far memory
here rests
homage to my hips
it was a dream
jasper texas 1998
miss rosie
mulberry fields
my dream about being white
poem in praise of menstruation
poem to my uterus
sisters
sorrows
the earth is a living thing
the lost baby poem
the lost women
to my last period
wishes for sons
won't you celebrate with me

Read by
Lucille Clifton

Crossing Brooklyn Ferry by Walt Whitman
Song of Myself, III by Walt Whitman

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