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Biography / Criticism
Lucille Clifton was born in Depew, New York. Named after her great-grandmother who, according to her father, was the first black woman to be legally hanged in the state of Virginia, she was raised with two half-sisters and a brother. Growing up, she recalls hearing the word 'nigger'. She knew that it wasn't her, and she thought, "'Well, I'll have to suspect everything they say, won't I?' And I've always been a very curious person, interested in a lot of things, and, so, in writing, I never thought I would be a poet" (Davis).
Clifton was awarded a scholarship to Howard University, becoming the first person in her family to finish high school and consider college, entering as a drama major. After two years she lost her scholarship and told her father, "I don't need that stuff. I'm going to write poems. I can do what I want to do! I'm from Dahomey women!" It was at this point that Clifton's writing began.
In a writer's group she met a man named Ishmael Reed, who showed some of her poems to Langston Hughes. He was the first to publish Clifton, premiering her work in the anthology Poetry of the Negro. Her first complete book of poems, Good Times, was published in 1969. She has been twice nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. Her first children's book, Some of the Days of Everett Anderson (1970), launched her into writing children's stories. Clifton was recently interviewed as part of "The Language of Life," with Bill Moyers, a major video series exploring the American phenomenon of public poetry. She has been honored as Poet Laureate of Maryland, and currently teaches as a Distinguished Professor of Humanities at St. Mary's College of Maryland.
Lucille's poetry is straightforward and makes use of vernacular speech. Her poems contain compassion and a high level of emotion. Her African roots and her personal history have become the basis of her writing. Other common themes include family, death, birth, and religion. She says, "the proper subject matter for poetry is life" (Davis). She asserts that the reason to write poetry is to assert the importance of being human.
Works by the Author
- The Times They Used to Be (2002)
- Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems, 1988-2000 (2000)
- Dear Creator: A Week of Poems for Young People and Their Teachers (1997)
- El Nino Que No Creia En La Primavera (1996)
- The Terrible Stories: Poems (1996)
- Three Wishes (1994)
- The Book of Light (1993)
- Everett Anderson's 1-2-3 (with Ann Grifalconi (Illustrator)) (1992)
- Everett Anderson's Friend (1992)
- Quilting : Poems 1987-1990 (1991)
- Everett Anderson's Christmas Coming (with Jan Spivey Gilchrist (Illustrator)) (1991)
- Everett Anderson's Nine Month Long (1987)
- Next: New Poems (1987)
- Good Woman: Poems and a Memoir 1969-1980 (1987)
- Some of the Days of Everett Anderson (1987)
- Everett Anderson's Goodbye (1983)
- Sonora Beautiful (1981)
- Two-Headed Woman (1980)
- My Friend Jacob (1980)
- The Lucky Stone (1979)
- Amifika (1978)
- Generations: A Memoir (1976)
- My Brother Fine With Me (1975)
- An Ordinary Woman (1974)
- The Times They Used to Be (1974)
- Everett Anderson's Year (with Ann Grifalconi (Illustrator)) (1974)
- Good, Says Jerome (1973)
- All Us Come Cross the Water (1973)
- Don't You Remember (1973)
- The Boy Who Didn't Believe in Spring (1973)
- Good News About the Earth (1972)
- Some of the Days of Everett Anderson (1970)
- The Black BC's (1970)
- Good Times (1969)
Works about the Author
- Thelma, Bryant. A Conversation with Lucille Clifton. SAGE: A Scholarly Journal on Black Women (Atlanta, GA) 2. 1 (1985 Spring): 52.
- Davis, Eisa. Lucille Clifton and Sonia Sanchez: A Conversation. Callaloo: A Journal of African Diaspora Arts and Letters 25.4 (2002 Fall): 1038-74.
- Davis, Katie. "Poet Lucille Clifton Discusses Her Work and Her Life. " National Public Radio: All Things Considered. October 24, 1993.
- Glaser, Michael. I'd Like Not to Be a Stranger in the World: A Conversation/Interview with Lucille Clifton. Antioch Review 58.3 (2000 Summer): 310-29.
- Hine, Darlene Clark, Elsa Barkley Brown, and Rosalyn Terborg-Penn, eds. Black Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1993. 254-55.
- Holladay, Hilary. Black Names in White Space: Lucille Clifton's South. Southern Literary Journal 34.2 (2002 Spring): 120-33.
- ---. 'Our Lives Are Our Line and We Go On': Concentric Circles of History in Lucille Clifton's Generations. Xavier Review 19.2 (1999): 18-29.
- Hull, Akasha. In Her Own Images: Lucille Clifton and the Bible. Dwelling in Possibility: Women Poets and Critics on Poetry. Ed. Yopie Prins and Maeera Shreiber. Ithaca: Cornell U P, 1997. 273-95.
- Johnson, Dianne. The Chronicling of an African-American Life and Consciousness: Lucille Clifton's Everett Anderson Series. Children's Literature Association Quarterly 14.3 (1989 Winter): 174-178.
- Johnson, Joyce. The Theme of Celebration in Lucille Clifton's Poetry. Pacific Coast Philology 18.1-2 (1983 Nov. ): 70-76.
- Jong, Erica. Three Sisters. Parnassus: Poetry in Review (New York, NY) 1 (1972): 77-88.
- Lazer, Hank. Blackness Blessed: The Writings of Lucille Clifton. The Southern Review 25.3 (1989 Summer): 760-770.
- Madhubuti, Haki. Lucille Clifton: Warm Water, Greased Legs, and Dangerous Poetry. Black Women Writers (1950-1980): A Critical Evaluation. Ed. Mari Evans. Garden City, NY: Anchor-Doubleday, 1984. 150-160.
- Mance, Ajuan Maria. Re-Locating the Black Female Subject: The Landscape of the Body in the Poems of Lucille Clifton. Recovering the Black Female Body: Self-Representations by African American Women. Ed. Michael Bennett and Vanessa D. Dickerson. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 2001. 123-40.
- Ostriker, Alicia. Kin and Kin: The Poetry of Lucille Clifton. The American Poetry Review 22.6 (1993 Nov-Dec): 41-48.
- Schreibman, Susan and Rosa Lentini. Siete poetas norteamericanas actuales: May Swenson, Denise Levertov, Maxine Kumin, Adrienne Rich, Linda Pasatan, Lucille Clifton, Carolyn Forcé. Pamplona: Pamiela, 1991 (Spanish).
- Wall, Cheryl A. Sifting Legacies in Lucille Clifton's Generations. Contemporary Literature 40.4 (1999 Winter): 552-74.
- White, Mark Bernard. Sharing the Living Light: Rhetorical, Poetic, and Social Identity in Lucille Clifton. CLA Journal 40.3 (1997 Mar): 288-304.
- Whitley, Edward. Lucille Clifton (1936- ). African American Autobiographers: A Sourcebook. Ed. Emmanuel S. Nelson. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2002. 68-72.
Works in Languages other than English
- El nino que no creía en la primavera. Illus. Brinton Turkle . Trans. Alma Flor Ada. New York: E.P. Dutton, 1976 (First edition). New York: Penguin Ediciones, 1996.
Fooling with Words: Lucille Clifton
The site has a picture of the author, a brief biography, and the text of her poem "Adam Thinking. "
Modern American Poetry: Lucille Clifton
The site features critical and biographical works, book jacket images, and links to Clifton's work online.
WGBH Boston: Clifton Reads
A video clip of Clifton introducing and reading her poem "Turning. "
Report a dead link or suggest a new one by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
This page was researched and submitted by Angela Grischkowsky, Heidi Hemmen, and Jason Schindler on 9/18/98 and edited and updated by Lauren Curtright on 10/7/04.