Author Bio

Remembering Lucille Clifton

posted: 2.23.10 by archived

Teaching Poetry mourns the loss of poet Lucille Clifton, who died on February 10 at the age of 73, after a long battle with cancer.

Clifton, perhaps best know to students for her widely-anthologized poem “homage to my hips,” was the author of numerous books of poetry as well as prose. She grew up in Buffalo, New York, the daughter of working-class African American parents, and attended Howard University.

Her poems frequently focused on the African American experience and family life, and are marked by their sparseness—Clifton usually wrote in short lines without capitalization or punctuation.

Clifton was much lauded.  She was a two-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; won an Emmy, a Lannan Literary Prize, and the Ruth Lilly Prize; and received two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities. She was poet laureate of Maryland from 1974 to 1985. She won the National Book Award in 2000 for Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems, 1988-2000.

There are numerous moving tributes to Clifton in print and all over the Internet. The New York Times featured a lengthy obituary that sums up Clifton’s life and work well. On the New Yorker’s Book Bench blog, poet Elizabeth Alexander writes a stirring remembrance of a poet she admired deeply:

No matter how elaborate the words they use, poets strive to tell elemental truths. As Clifton often reminded her acolytes, ‘truth and facts are two different things.’ Time and again, she made luminous poems premised on clear truth-telling, but always with a twist, and with space for evocation and mystery. Her style was as understated as the lowercase type of her poems, a quiet, even woman’s voice telling sometimes terrible truths. Like psalms, koans, and old folks’ proverbs, Clifton’s poems invite meditation and return.

The Poetry Foundation dedicated their Poetry Off the Shelf podcast to remembering Clifton. The American Academy of Poets main site prominently features a tribute to Clifton, and their resources on her include a recording of Clifton reading her well known “homage to my hips” and a lesson plan for teaching women poets.

The Poetry Society of America remembers Clifton on its blog. The PSA was scheduled to present Clifton with their Centennial Frost Medal on April 1. The event will serve as a tribute by other poets to Clifton’s memory.

Readers interested in learning more about Clifton can find a lengthy bio on the Poetry Foundation’s site, alongside a number of her poems that appeared in that magazine, and audio recordings of “praise song” and “why won’t you celebrate with me.”

Rest in peace, Lucille Clifton.

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Andrew Flynn is an editorial assistant at Bedford/St. Martin’s. He graduated from Columbia in 2008, with a BA in history and philosophy. Before coming to Bedford he interned at the Paris Review.

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