(1936 - 2010)
Celebrated poet Lucille Clifton was born Thelma Lucille Sayles in DePew, New York in 1936. She was raised in Buffalo and studied at Howard University on scholarship before transferring to SUNY Fredonia, not far from her hometown. In 1958, she married Fred James Clifton, a professor of philosophy at the University at Buffalo. Poet Ishmael Reed, a friend of Clifton’s, first shared her work with Langston Hughes, who included it in the major anthology The Poetry of the Negro.
Clifton’s first poetry collection, Good Times, was named one of the ten best books of the year by the New York Times. She was the first, and is thus far the only, author to have two books of poetry chosen as finalists for the Pulitzer Prize in the same year: Good Woman: Poems and a Memoir, 1969-1980 and Next: New Poems. Her abundant honors and awards include a further Pulitzer nomination and a Juniper Prize for Two-Headed Woman, a National Book Award for Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems, 1988-2000, an Emmy Award, and a Lannan Literary Award.
A Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, Clifton held the role of Poet Laureate of Maryland for over a decade and spent many years teaching writing, ending her career as a Distinguished Professor of Humanities at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. She wrote 13 books of poetry and 16 children's books, including Everett Anderson's Good-bye, which won the 1984 Coretta Scott King Award. A much-beloved poet who confronted issues of race, gender, body, and more in her powerful, deceptively simple poetry, Clifton died of cancer in 2010.
Photo by Rachel Eliza Griffiths.