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May 03, 1983Guggenheim MuseumFrom the Academy Audio Archive

About this poet

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

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 (Random House, 1974).

She was the author of  several other collections of poetry, including Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems 1988–2000 (BOA Editions, 2000), which won the National Book Award; Good Woman: Poems and a Memoir 1969-1980 (BOA Editions, 1987), which was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize; and Two-Headed Woman (University of Massachusetts Press, 1980), also a Pulitzer Prize nominee as well as the recipient of the University of Massachusetts Press Juniper Prize.

Clifton was also the author of Generations: A Memoir (Random House, 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 served as Poet Laureate for the State of Maryland from 1979 to 1985, 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 seventy-three.

Selected Bibliography

Poetry
The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton: 1965–2010 (BOA Editions, 2012)
Voices: Poems (BOA Editions, 2008)
Mercy: Poems (BOA Editions, 2004)
Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems, 1988–2000 (BOA Editions, 2000)
The Terrible Stories: Poems (BOA Editions, 1996)
The Book of Light (Copper Canyon Press, 1993)
Quilting: Poems, 1987–1990 (BOA Editions, 1991)
Good Woman: Poems and a Memoir (BOA Editions, 1987)
Next: New Poems (BOA Editions, 1987)
Two-Headed Woman (University of Massachusetts Press, 1980)
An Ordinary Woman (Random House, 1974)
Good News About the Earth (Random House, 1972)
Good Times (Random House, 1969)

Prose
Generations: A Memoir (Random House, 1976)

Children's Literature
Three Wishes (Viking Press, 1976)
The Boy Who Didn't Believe in Spring (Dutton, 1973)
Some of the Days of Everett Anderson (Rinehart and Winston, 1970)
The Black BC's (Dutton, 1970)
 

my dream about being white


hey music and
me
only white,
hair a flutter of
fall leaves
circling my perfect   
line of a nose,
no lips,
no behind, hey
white me
and i'm wearing
white history
but there’s no future   
in those clothes
so i take them off and   
wake up
dancing. 

From Next: New Poems by Lucille Clifton. Copyright © 1989 by Lucille Clifton. Reprinted with permission of BOA Editions Ltd.. All rights reserved.

From Next: New Poems by Lucille Clifton. Copyright © 1989 by Lucille Clifton. Reprinted with permission of BOA Editions Ltd.. All rights reserved.

Lucille Clifton

Lucille Clifton

Lucille Clifton, the author of Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems 1988–2000 (BOA Editions, 2000), which won the National Book Award, was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 1999.

by this poet

poem

(at St. Mary's)


may the tide
that is entering even now
the lip of our understanding
carry you out
beyond the face of fear
may you kiss
the wind then turn from it
certain that it will
love your back    may you
open your eyes to water
poem
i wish them cramps.
i wish them a strange town
and the last tampon.
I wish them no 7-11.

i wish them one week early
and wearing a white skirt.
i wish them one week late.

later i wish them hot flashes 
and clots like you 
wouldn't believe. let the 
flashes come when they 
meet someone special. 
let the clots
poem
when i watch you 
wrapped up like garbage 
sitting, surrounded by the smell 
of too old potato peels 
or
when i watch you 
in your old man's shoes 
with the little toe cut out 
sitting, waiting for your mind 
like next week's grocery 
i say
when i watch you
you wet brown bag of a woman 
who used to be the best