Lucille Clifton is one of the most beloved and respected figures in American poetry today. A major voice since her publishing debut in 1969, she has continued to portray the experiences of being an African-American, a woman, and a human with clarity and elegance. Her language, often described as "deceptively simple," strikes a nuanced balance between complexity of thought and economy of words.

Born in Depew, New York, Clifton attended both Howard University (where she met future luminaries Toni Morrison and James Baldwin) and Fredonia State Teachers College (now SUNY-Fredonia). She is the author of a dozen books of poetry and prose and almost twenty children's books, including the Everett Anderson series. The New York Times named her first book of poems, Good Times, one of the ten best books of 1969. Subsequent books include An Ordinary Woman, Good Woman, Quilting, and, most recently, Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems, 1988-2000, which won the National Book Award. Clifton is the only poet to have two books nominated for the Pulitzer at once (Next and Good Woman: Poems and a Memoir, 1969-1980).

Clifton's family figures prominently in her poetry, from her six children to the African ancestors who were brought to America as slaves. Her great-grandmother, Lucille (for whom she is named), killed the white father of her children and earned the "dignity" of being the first black woman legally hanged in Virginia. Clifton's poems exploring this legacy are often arresting, and reveal what Hank Lazer calls the "simultaneously political and aesthetic" achievement of her work. In "light," complex historical experience informs a personal revelation:

she calls the light,
which was the name
of the grandmother
who waited by the crossroads
in virginia
and shot the whiteman off his horse,
killing the killer of sons.
light breaks from her life
to her lives.
mine already is an afrikan name.

Haki Madhubuti writes of Clifton, "Lucille Clifton is a poet of mean talent who has not let her gifts separate her from the work at hand. She is a teacher and an example. To read her is to give birth to bright seasons".

Clifton is Distinguished Professor of Humanities at St. Mary's College of Maryland, where she was Poet Laureate for many years.

Poems by Lucille Clifton


the photograph: a lynching

the times




      Poetry Center Reading:  
    Fall 2002