Clifton, (Thelma) Lucille 1936-

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CLIFTON, (Thelma) Lucille 1936-

PERSONAL: Born June 27, 1936, in Depew, NY; daughter of Samuel Louis, Sr. (a laborer) and Thelma (a laborer; maiden name, Moore) Sayles; married Fred James Clifton (an educator, writer, and artist), May 10, 1958 (died, November 10, 1984); children: Sidney, Fredrica, Channing, Gillian, Graham, Alexia. Education: Attended Howard University, 1953-55, and Fredonia State Teachers College (now State University of New York College—Fredonia), 1955.

ADDRESSES: Office—Division of Arts and Letters, St. Mary's College of Maryland, Montgomery Hall #126, St. Mary's City, MD 20686. Agent—Marilyn Marlow, Curtis Brown Ltd., 10 Astor Pl., New York, NY 10003. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER: New York State Division of Employment, Buffalo, claims clerk, 1958-60; U.S. Office of Education, Washington, DC, literature assistant for Central Atlantic Regional Educational Laboratory, 1969-71; Coppin State College, Baltimore, MD, poet-in-residence, 1974-79; Jirry Moore Visiting Writer, George Washington University, 1982-83; University of California, Santa Cruz, professor of literature and creative writing, 1985-89; St. Mary's College of Maryland, St. Mary's City, MD, Distinguished Professor of Literature, 1989-91, Distinguished Professor of Humanities, 1991—; Hilda C. Landers Chair in the Liberal Arts; Duke University, Durham, NC, Blackburn Professor of Creative Writing; visiting writer, Columbia University School of the Arts, 1995-99; visiting teacher, Memphis State University; visiting poet, St. Edward's University, School of Humanities (Austin, TX), 2000. Woodrow Wilson and Lila Wallace/Readers Digest visiting fellowship to Fisk University, Alma College, Albright College, Davidson College, and others. Trustee, Enoch Pratt Free Library, Baltimore. Has made television appearances, including The Language of Life, The Today Show, Sunday Morning with Charles Kuralt, Bill Moyers' series, The Power of the Word, and Nightline.

MEMBER: International PEN, Academy of American Poets (chancellor, 1999—), Poetry Society of America, American Cancer Society, Global Forum Arts Committee, Authors Guild, Authors League of America.

AWARDS, HONORS: Discovery Award, New York YW-YMHA Poetry Center, 1969; Good Times: Poems was cited as one of the year's ten best books by the New York Times, 1969; Creative Writing Fellowships and awards, National Endowment for the Arts, 1969, 1970, 1972, and 1973; Poet Laureate of the State of Maryland, 1974-85; Juniper Prize, University of Massachusetts Press, 1980; Pulitzer Prize nominations for poetry, 1980, 1987, 1988, and 1991; Coretta Scott King Award, American Library Association, 1984, for Everett Anderson's Goodbye; Shestack Poetry Prize, American Poetry Review, 1988; Charity Randall Citation, International Poetry Forum, 1991; Shelley Memorial Prize, Poetry Society of America, 1992; named a "Maryland Living Treasure" and inducted into the Maryland Women's Hall of Fame, 1993; Andrew White Medal, Loyola College of Baltimore, 1993; Cannan Literary Award for Poetry, 1996; National Book Award nomination, 1996, and Lannan Literary Award for poetry, 1997, both for The Terrible Stories; inducted into National Literature Hall of Fame for African American Writers, 1998; Lenore Marshal Poetry Prize and Los Angeles Times poetry award, both 1998; Phi Beta Kappa, 1998; Lila Wallace/Readers Digest Award, 1999; National Book Award for poetry, 1999, for Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems, 1988-2000; Emmy Award, American Academy of Television Arts and Sciences; Fellow, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1999; selected as a Literary Lion, New York Public Library; recipient of honorary degrees from Colby College, University of Maryland, Towson State University, Washington College, and Albright College.

WRITINGS:

POETRY

Good Times, Random House (New York, NY), 1969.

Good News about the Earth: New Poems, Random House (New York, NY), 1972.

An Ordinary Woman, Random House (New York, NY), 1974.

Two-Headed Woman, University of Massachusetts Press (Amherst, MA), 1980.

Good Woman: Poems and a Memoir, 1969-1980, BOA Editions (Brockport, NY), 1987.

Next: New Poems, BOA Editions (Brockport, NY), 1987.

Ten Oxherding Pictures, Moving Parts Press (Santa Cruz, CA), 1988.

Quilting: Poems 1987-1990, BOA Editions (Brockport, NY), 1991.

The Book of Light, Copper Canyon Press (Port Townsend, WA), 1993.

The Terrible Stories, BOA Editions (Brockport, NY), 1998.

Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems, 1988-2000, BOA Editions (Brockport, NY), 2000.

Mercy: Poems, BOA Editions (Brockport, NY), 2004.

FOR CHILDREN

The Black BCs (alphabet poems), illustrations by Don Miller, Dutton (New York, NY), 1970.

Good, Says Jerome, illustrations by Stephanie Douglas, Dutton (New York, NY), 1973.

All Us Come 'cross the Water, pictures by John Steptoe, Holt (New York, NY), 1973.

Don't You Remember?, illustrations by Evaline Ness, Dutton (New York, NY), 1973.

The Boy Who Didn't Believe in Spring, pictures by Brinton Turkle, Dutton (New York, NY), 1973.

The Times They Used to Be, illustrations by Susan Jeschke, Holt (New York, NY), 1974.

My Brother Fine with Me, illustrations by Moneta Barnett, Holt (New York, NY), 1975.

Three Wishes, illustrations by Stephanie Douglas, Viking (New York, NY), 1976, illustrations by Michael Hays, Delacorte, 1992.

Amifika, illustrations by Thomas DiGrazia, Dutton (New York, NY), 1977.

The Lucky Stone, illustrations by Dale Payson, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1979, Yearling Books Random House (New York, NY), 1986.

My Friend Jacob, illustrations by Thomas DiGrazia, Dutton (New York, NY), 1980.

Sonora Beautiful, illustrations by Michael Garland, Dutton (New York, NY), 1981.

Dear Creator: A Week of Poems for Young People and Their Teachers, illustrations by Gail Gordon Carter, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1997.

Clifton's works have been translated into Spanish.

"EVERETT ANDERSON" SERIES; FOR CHILDREN

Some of the Days of Everett Anderson, illustrations by Evaline Ness, Holt (New York, NY), 1970.

Everett Anderson's Christmas Coming, illustrations by Evaline Ness, Holt (New York, NY), 1971, illustrations by Jan Spivey Gilchrist, Holt (New York, NY), 1991.

Everett Anderson's Year, illustrations by Ann Grifalconi, Holt (New York, NY), 1974.

Everett Anderson's Friend, illustrations by Ann Grifalconi, Holt (New York, NY), 1976.

Everett Anderson's123, illustrations by Ann Grifalconi, Holt (New York, NY), 1977.

Everett Anderson's Nine Month Long, illustrations by Ann Grifalconi, Holt (New York, NY), 1978.

Everett Anderson's Goodbye, illustrations by Ann Grifalconi, Holt (New York, NY), 1983.

One of the Problems of Everett Anderson, illustrations by Ann Grifalconi, Holt (New York, NY), 2001.

OTHER

(Compiler, with Alexander MacGibbon) Composition: An Approach through Reading, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1968.

Generations: A Memoir (prose), Random House (New York, NY), 1976.

Lucille Clifton Reading Her Poems with Comment in the Montpelier Room, October 24, 2002 (sound recoring), Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature, Library of Congress (Washington, DC), 2002.

The Poet and the Poem from the Library of Congress. Lucille Clifton (sound recording), Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature, Library of Congress (Washington, DC), 2002.

Contributor to Poetry of the Negro, 1746-1970, edited by Langston Hughes and Arna Bontemps, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1970; (with Marlo Thomas and others) Free to Be . . . You and Me, McGraw-Hill (New York, NY), 1974; Free to Be a Family, 1987; Robert Kapilow's 03: This New Immense Unbound World (printed music), G. Schirmer (New York, NY), 2003; and other anthologies, including Norton Anthology of Literature by Women, Coming into the Light, and Stealing the Language. Has made numerous additional sound and video recordings of poetry readings. Contributor of poetry to the New York Times. Contributor of fiction to Negro Digest, Redbook, House and Garden, and Atlantic. Contributor of nonfiction to Ms. and Essence.

SIDELIGHTS: Poet Lucille Clifton "began composing and writing stories at an early age and has been much encouraged by an ever-growing reading audience and a fine critical reputation," wrote Wallace R. Peppers in a Dictionary of Literary Biography. "In many ways her themes are traditional: she writes of her family because she is greatly interested in making sense of their lives and relationships; she writes of adversity and success in the ghetto community; and she writes of her role as a poet."

Clifton's work emphasizes endurance and strength through adversity. Ronald Baughman suggested in his Dictionary of Literary Biography essay that Clifton's "pride in being black and in being a woman helps her transform difficult circumstances into a qualified affirmation about the black urban world she portrays." A Publishers Weekly critic noted that Clifton "redeems the human spirit from its dark moments. She is among our most trustworthy and gifted poets." Clifton is a Distinguished Professor of Humanities at St. Mary's College of Maryland and a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. In addition to her numerous poetry collections, her work is included in many anthologies, and she has written many children's books. Not surprising, Clifton has won numerous literary awards and was the first author to have two books of poetry chosen as finalists for the Pulitzer Prize, Good Woman: Poems and a Memoir, 1969-1980 and Next: New Poems. She served as the state of Maryland's poet laureate from 1974 until 1985, and won the prestigious National Book Award in 1999 for Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems, 1988-2000. Her poetry has been translated into Norwegian, Spanish, French, Japanese, Hebrew, and other languages.

Clifton is noted for saying much with few words. In a Christian Century review of Clifton's work, Peggy Rosenthal noted, "The first thing that strikes us about Lucille Clifton's poetry is what is missing: capitalization, punctuation, long and plentiful lines. We see a poetry so pared down that its spaces take on substance, become a shaping presence as much as the words themselves....She has chosen a minimalist mode that clears out human society's clutter, the mess we've made by identifying ourselves in contending genders, ethnicities, nations. Lightly, as if biting her tongue, with a wise smile, she shows us a radically egalitarian world where no one or no capitalized word lords it over others." In an American Poetry Review article about Clifton's work, Robin Becker commented on Clifton's lean style. "Clifton's poetics of understatement—no capitalization, few strong stresses per line, many poems totaling fewer than twenty lines, the sharp rhetorical question—includes the essential only."

Clifton's first volume of poetry, Good Times, which was cited by the New York Times as one of 1969's ten best books, was described by Peppers as a "varied collection of character sketches written with third person narrative voices." Baughman noted that the poems "attain power not only through their subject matter but also through their careful techniques; among Clifton's most successful poetic devices . . . are the precise evocative images that give substance to her rhetorical statements and a frequent duality of vision that lends complexity to her portraits of place and character." Calling the book's title "ironic," Baughman stated: "Although the urban ghetto can, through its many hardships, create figures who are tough enough to survive and triumph, the overriding concern of this book is with the horrors of the location, with the human carnage that results from such problems as poverty, unemployment, substandard housing, and inadequate education."

In Clifton's second volume of poetry, Good News about the Earth: New Poems, "the elusive good times seem more attainable," remarked Baughman, who summarized the three sections into which the book is divided: the first section "focuses on the sterility and destruction of 'white ways,' newly perceived through the social upheavals of the early 1970s"; the second section "presents a series of homages to black leaders of the late 1960s and early 1970s"; and the third section "deals with biblical characters powerfully rendered in terms of the black experience." Harriet Jackson Scarupa noted in Ms. that after having read what Clifton says about blackness and black pride, some critics "have concluded that Clifton hates whites. [Clifton] considers this a misreading. When she equates whiteness with death, blackness with life, she says: 'What I'm talking about is a certain kind of white arrogance—and not all white people have it—that is not good. I think airs of superiority are very dangerous. I believe in justice. I try not to be about hatred.'" Writing in Poetry, Ralph J. Mills, Jr., said that Clifton's poetic scope transcends the black experience "to embrace the entire world, human and nonhuman, in the deep affirmation she makes in the teeth of negative evidence."

An Ordinary Woman, Clifton's third collection of poems, "abandons many of the broad racial issues examined in the two preceding books and focuses instead on the narrower but equally complex issues of the writer's roles as woman and poet," according to Baughman. Peppers likewise commented that "the poems take as their theme a historical, social, and spiritual assessment of the current generation in the genealogical line" of Clifton's great-great-grandmother, who had been taken from her home in Dahomey, West Africa, and brought to America in slavery in 1830. Peppers noted that by taking an ordinary experience and personalizing it, "Clifton has elevated the experience into a public confession" which may be shared, and "it is this shared sense of situation, an easy identification between speaker and reader, that heightens the notion of ordinariness and gives . . . the collection an added dimension." Helen Vendler declared in the New York Times Book Review that Clifton "recalls for us those bare places we have all waited as 'ordinary women,' with no choices but yes or no, no art, no grace, no words, no reprieve." "Written in the same ironic, yet cautiously optimistic spirit as her earlier published work," observed Peppers, An Ordinary Woman is "lively, full of vigor, passion, and an all-consuming honesty."

In Generations: A Memoir, "it is as if [Clifton] were showing us a cherished family album and telling us the story about each person which seemed to sum him or her up best," described a New Yorker contributor. Calling the book an "eloquent eulogy of [Clifton's] parents," Reynolds Price wrote in the New York Times Book Review that, "as with most elegists, her purpose is perpetuation and celebration, not judgment. There is no attempt to see either parent whole; no attempt at the recovery of history not witnessed by or told to the author. There is no sustained chronological narrative. Instead, clusters of brief anecdotes gather round two poles, the deaths of father and mother." Price believed that Generations stands "worthily" among the other modern elegies that assert that "we may survive, some lively few, if we've troubled to be alive and loved." However, a contributor to Virginia Quarterly Review thought that the book is "more than an elegy or a personal memoir. It is an attempt on the part of one woman to retrieve, and lyrically to celebrate, her Afro-American heritage."

In a review of Clifton's work for Southern Literary Journal, Hilary Holladay remarked about how Clifton addresses her "ancestral South." "Although she does not have the intimate knowledge of the region that her father and mother had, her feelings about the region are nevertheless complicated and passionate. The South we encounter in her poems is a conceit enabling her to address two subjects, the first concrete and the second abstract, that have been equally important to her poetry for many years: 1) slavery and its seemingly endless impact on American life, and 2) the all-powerful role of language in determining our knowledge of ourselves and others. In her poems with southern settings, we don't see much of the region's landscape, but we do see how language . . . can either obliterate or validate one's identity."

Clifton's books for children are designed to help them understand their world. My Friend Jacob, for instance, is a story "in which a black child speaks with affection and patience of his friendship with a white adolescent neighbor . . . who is retarded," observed Zena Sutherland in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books. "Jacob is Sam's 'very very best friend' and all of his best qualities are appreciated by Sam, just as all of his limitations are accepted....It is strong in the simplicity and warmth with which a handicapped person is loved rather than pitied, enjoyed rather than tolerated." Critics felt that Clifton's characters and their relationships are accurately and positively drawn in My Friend Jacob. Ismat Abdal-Haqq noted in Interracial Books for Children Bulletin that "the two boys have a strong relationship filled with trust and affection. The author depicts this relationship and their everyday adventures in a way that is unmarred by the mawkish sentimentality that often characterizes tales of the mentally disabled." And a contributor to Reading Teacher stated that, "in a matter-of-fact, low-keyed style, we discover how [Sam and Jacob] help one another grow and understand the world."

Clifton's children's books also facilitate an understanding of black heritage specifically, which in turn fosters an important link with the past. All Us Come 'cross the Water, for example, "in a very straight-forward way . . . shows the relationship of Africa to Blacks in the U.S. without getting into a heavy rap about 'Pan-Africanism,'" stated Judy Richardson in the Journal of Negro Education. Richardson added that Clifton "seems able to get inside a little boy's head, and knows how to represent that on paper."

An awareness of one's origins figures also in The Times They Used to Be. Called a "short and impeccable vignette—laced with idiom and humor of rural Black folk," by Rosalind K. Goddard in School Library Journal, the book was described by Lee A. Daniels in the Washington Post as a "story in which a young girl catches her first glimpse of the new technological era in a hardware store window, and learns of death and life." "Most books that awaken adult nostalgia are not as appealing to young readers," maintained Sutherland in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, "but this brief story has enough warmth and vitality and humor for any reader."

In addition to quickening an awareness of black heritage, Clifton's books for children frequently include an element of fantasy as well. In Three Wishes, for example, a young girl finds a lucky penny on New Year's Day and makes three wishes upon it. Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, in the New York Times Book Review, called the book "an urbanized version of the traditional tale in which the first wish reveals the power of the magic object . . . the second wish is a mistake, and the third undoes the second." Lehmann-Haupt added: "Too few children's books for blacks justify their ethnicity, but this one is a winning blend of black English and bright illustration." The Lucky Stone, in which a lucky stone provides good fortune for all of its owners, was described by Ruth K. MacDonald in School Library Journal as "Four short stories about four generations of Black women and their dealings with a lucky stone.... Clifton uses as a frame device a grandmother telling the history of the stone to her granddaughter; by the end, the granddaughter has inherited the stone herself."

Barbara Walker wrote in Interracial Books for Children Bulletin that Clifton "is a gifted poet with the greater gift of being able to write poetry for children." But in a Language Arts interview with Rudine Sims, Clifton indicated that she does not think of it as poetry especially for children. "It seems to me that if you write poetry for children, you have to keep too many things in mind other than the poem. So I'm just writing a poem," she said.

Some of the Days of Everett Anderson is a book of nine poems, about which Marjorie Lewis observed in School Library Journal: "Some of the days of six-year-old 'ebony Everett Anderson' are happy; some lonely—but all of them are special, reflecting the author's own pride in being black." In the New York Times Book Review, Hoyt W. Fuller thought that Clifton has "a profoundly simple way of saying all that is important to say, and we know that the struggle is worth it, that the all-important battle of image is being won, and that the future of all those beautiful black children out there need not be twisted and broken." Everett Anderson's Christmas Coming concerns Christmas preparations in which "each of the five days before Everett's Christmas is described by a verse," observed Anita Silvey in Horn Book. Silvey added: "The overall richness of Everett's experiences dominates the text." Jane O'Reilly suggested in the New York Times Book Review that "Everett Anderson, black and boyish, is glimpsed, rather than explained through poems about him." Everett Anderson's Year celebrates "a year in the life of a city child . . . in appealing verses," according to Beryl Robinson in Horn Book. Robinson felt that "mischief, fun, gaiety, and poignancy are a part of his days as the year progresses. The portrayals of child and mother are lively and solid, executed with both strength and tenderness."

Language is important in Clifton's writing. In answer to Sims's question about the presence of both black and white children in her work, Clifton responded specifically about Sonora Beautiful, which is about the insecurities and dissatisfaction of an adolescent girl and which has only white characters: "In this book, I heard the characters as white. I have a tendency to hear the language of the characters, and then I know something about who the people are." However, regarding objections to the black vernacular she often uses, Clifton told Sims: "I do not write out of weakness. That is to say, I do not write the language I write because I don't know any other....But I have a certain integrity about my art, and in my art you have to be honest and you have to have people talking the way they really talk. So all of my books are not in the same language."

In her interview with Sims, she was asked whether or not she feels any special pressures or special opportunities as a black author. Clifton responded: "I do feel a responsibility.... First, I'm going to write books that tend to celebrate life. I'm about that. And I wish to have children see people like themselves in books. . . . I also take seriously the responsibility of not lying....I'm not going to say that life is wretched if circumstance is wretched, because that's not true. So I take that responsibility, but it's a responsibility to the truth, and to my art as much as anything. I owe everybody that....It's the truth as I see it, and that's what my responsibility is."

In Clifton's 1991 title, Quilting: Poems 1987-1990, the author uses a quilt as a poetic metaphor for life. Each poem is a story, bound together through the chronicles of history and figuratively sewn with the thread of experience. The result is, as Roger Mitchell in American Book Review described it, a quilt "made by and for people." Each section of the book is divided by a conventional quilt design name such as "Eight-pointed Star" and "Tree of Life," which provides a framework within which Clifton crafts her poetic quilt. Clifton's main focus is on women's history; however, according to Mitchell, her poetry has a far broader range: "Her heroes include nameless slaves buried on old plantations, Hector Peterson (the first child killed in the Soweto riot), Fannie Lou Hamer (founder of the Mississippi Peace and Freedom Party), Nelson and Winnie Mandela, W. E. B. DuBois, Huey P. Newton, and many other people who gave their lives to [free] black people from slavery and prejudice."

Enthusiasts of Quilting included critic Bruce Bennett in the New York Times Book Review, who praised Clifton as a "passionate, mercurial writer, by turns angry, prophetic, compassionate, shrewd, sensuous, vulnerable and funny....The movement and effect of the whole book communicate the sense of a journey through which the poet achieves an understanding of something new." Pat Monaghan, in Booklist, admired Clifton's "terse, uncomplicated" verse, and judged the poet "a fierce and original voice in American letters." Mitchell found energy and hope in her poems, referring to them as "visionary." He concluded that they are "the poems of a strong woman, strong enough to . . . look the impending crises of our time in the eye, as well as our customary limitations, and go ahead and hope anyway."

Clifton's 1993 poetry collection, The Book of Light, examines "life through light in its various manifestations," commented Andrea Lockett in a Belles Lettres review of the collection. Among the poetic subjects of the collection are bigotry and intolerance, epitomized by a poem about controversial U.S. Senator Jesse Helms; destruction, including a poem about the tragic bombing by police of a MOVE compound in Philadelphia in 1985; religion, characterized by a sequence of poems featuring a dialogue between God and the devil; and mythology, rendered by poems about figures such as Atlas and Superman. "If this poet's art has deepened since . . . Good Times, it's in an increased capacity for quiet delicacy and fresh generalization," remarked Poetry contributor Calvin Bedient. Bedient criticized the poems in the collection that take an overtly political tone, taking issue with "Clifton's politics of championing difference—except, of course, where the difference opposes her politics." However, Bedient commended the more personal poems in The Book of Light, declaring that when Clifton writes without "anger and sentimentality, she writes at her remarkable best." Lockett concluded that the collection is "a gift of joy, a truly illuminated manuscript by a writer whose powers have been visited by grace."

Political messages are present in other Clifton works, including "Jasper Texas 1998," about an African-American man who was dragged to death from the back of a truck by three white men in Texas, and "Stop," which calls on people to take action. Clifton recited and discussed these poems at a Folger Shakespear Library reading, which Adrienne Ammerman reviewed for Off Our Backs. Ammerman noted, as did Sims, that Clifton has a desire to be truthful, "even if it's not currently the 'correct' thing to do." Responding to a critic who was disappointed that Clifton "played the race card," the writer remarked, "It's not a game and I'm not playing." "Stop" is about Nkosi Johnson, the noted twelve-year-old South African victim of AIDS, in which Clifton "calls for people to stop what they are doing, to stop what they are not doing, to pay attention, and to act." Ammermen noted that Clifton takes you to that "sticky place where we are scared to face an exhausting reality, but where we know we can't reconcile ourselves to ignorance." Citing great respect for Clifton's work, the reviewer indicated that the poet "defies the mores of political correctness and is candid about her feelings on race in many of her poems. By putting voice to her experiences, Clifton creates a public space within which politics may take place. By putting voice to the experience of others, she exercises her verbal privilege as a talented writer by enabling others to weld their personal lives with the lives of those different from themselves."

The Terrible Stories and Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems, 1988-2000 shed light upon women's survival skills in the face of ill health, family upheaval, and historic tragedy. Blessing the Boats is a compilation of four other Clifton books, plus nineteen new poems, which, Becker noted in her review for American Poetry Review, "shows readers how the poet's themes and formal structures develop over time." Among the pieces collected in these volumes are several about the author's breast cancer, but she also deals with juvenile violence, child abuse, biblical characters, dreams, the legacy of slavery, and a shaman-like empathy with animals as varied as foxes, squirrels, and crabs. She also speaks in a number of voices, as noted by Becker, including "angel, Eve, Lazarus, Leda, Lot's Wife, Lucifer, among others . . . as she probes the narratives that undergird western civilization and forges new ones."

In a Booklist review of Blessing the Boats, Donna Seaman found the poems "lean, agile, and accurate, [with] a beauty in their directness and efficiency." A Publishers Weekly reviewer likewise concluded that the collection "distills a distinctive American voice, one that pulls no punches in taking on the best and worst of life." During the National Book Awards ceremony for this book, Renee Olson reported for another Booklist article that "Clifton was cited for evoking 'the struggle, beauty, and passion of one woman's life with such clarity and power that her vision becomes representative, communal, and unforgettable.'" In Mercy, Clifton's twelfth book of poetry, the poet writes about the relationship between mothers and daughters, terrorism, prejudice, and personal faith.

Speaking to Michael S. Glaser during an interview for the Antioch Review, Clifton commented about being inducted into American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Addressing her colleagues as "scholars of the mind, scholars of the heart, and scholars of the spirit," she remarked: "So often people think that intelligence is just about the mind, but, you know—especially in the humanities, you do have to explore both the mind and the heart. Nobody is just mind. Absolutely nobody. Balance is the law of the universe, to balance the inside and the outside of people. It's important." In relaying a story about a reading, Clifton quipped, "A guy came up and he said, 'I really enjoyed that. Of course, I'm not into poetry because I'm a historian, and so I study the history of people.' And I said, 'So do I. You study the outside of them. I just study inside.'"

In Clifton's interview with Glaser, the poet reflected that she continues to write, because "writing is a way of continuing to hope . . . perhaps for me it is a way of remembering I am not alone." How would Clifton like to be remembered? "I would like to be seen as a woman whose roots go back to Africa, who tried to honor being human. My inclination is to try to help."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

BOOKS

Beckles, Frances N., Twenty Black Women, Gateway Press (Baltimore, MD), 1978.

Black Literature Criticism, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1992.

Children's Literature Review, Volume 5, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1983.

Contemporary Literary Criticism, Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 9, 1981, Volume 66, 1991.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 5: American Poets since World War II, 1980, Volume 41: Afro-American Poets since 1955, 1985.

Dreyer, Sharon Spredemann, The Bookfinder: A Guide to Children's Literature about the Needs and Problems of Youth Aged 2-15, Volume 1, American Guidance Service (Circle Pines, MN), 1977.

Evans, Mari, editor, Black Women Writers (1950-1980): A Critical Evaluation, Doubleday-Anchor (New York, NY), 1984.

PERIODICALS

America, May 1, 1976.

American Book Review, June, 1992, Roger Mitchell, review of Quilting: Poems 1987-1990, p. 21.

American Poetry Review, November-December, 2001, Robin Becker, review of "The Poetics of Engagement," p. 11.

Antioch Review, summer, 2000, interview by Michael S. Glaser, p. 310.

Belles Lettres, summer, 1993, Andrea Lockett, review of The Book of Light, p. 51.

Black Scholar, March, 1981.

Black World, July, 1970; February, 1973.

Booklist, June 15, 1991, p. 1926; May 1, 1997, p. 1506; August, 1996, Patricia Monaghan, review of The Terrible Stories, p. 1876; March 15, 2000, Donna Seaman, review of Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems, 1988-2000, p. 1316; January 1, 2001, p. 874.

Book World, March 8, 1970; November 8, 1970.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, March, 1971; November, 1974, Zena Sutherland, review of Times They Used to Be; March, 1976; September, 1980, Zena Sutherland, review of My Friend Jacob.

Christian Century, January 30, 2002, p. 6.

Christian Science Monitor, February 5, 1988, p. B3; January 17, 1992, p. 14.

Horn Book, December, 1971, Anita Silvey, review of Everett Anderson's Christmas Coming; August, 1973; February, 1975; December, 1975; October, 1977; March, 1993, p. 229.

Interracial Books for Children Bulletin, Volume 5, numbers 7 and 8, 1975; Volume 7, number 1, 1976; Volume 8, number 1, 1977; Volume 10, number 5, 1979; Volume 11, numbers 1 and 2, 1980; Volume 12, number 2, 1981.

Journal of Negro Education, summer, 1974, Judy Richardson, review of All Us Come 'cross the Water.

Journal of Reading, February, 1977; December, 1986.

Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 1970; October 1, 1970; December 15, 1974; April 15, 1976; February 15, 1982.

Language Arts, January, 1978; February 2, 1982.

Library Journal, April 15, 2000, Louis McKee, review of Blessing the Boats, p. 95.

Ms., October, 1976, Harriet Jackson Scarupa, review of Good News about the Earth.

New Yorker, April 5, 1976, review of Generations: A Memoir.

New York Times, December 20, 1976.

New York Times Book Review, September 6, 1970; December 6, 1970; December 5, 1971; November 4, 1973; April 6, 1975, Helen Vendler, review of An Ordinary Woman; March 14, 1976, Reynolds Price, review of Generations: A Memoir; May 15, 1977, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, review of Three Wishes; February 19, 1989, p. 24; March 1, 1992, Bruce Bennett, "Preservation Poets"; April 18, 1993, David Kirby, review of The Book of Light, p. 15.

Off Our Backs, July, 2001, p. 11.

Poetry, May, 1973, Ralph J. Mills, Jr., review of Good News about the Earth; March, 1994, Calvin Bedient, review of The Book of Light, p. 344.

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ONLINE

Academy of American Poets Web site,http://www.poets.org/ (April 23, 2001).

Modern American Poetry Web site, http://www.english.uiuc.edu/maps/poets/ (July 28, 2004), Jocelyn K. Moody, "About Lucille Clifton."

Poetry Society of America Web site,http://www.literature-awards.com/ (July 28, 2004), "PSA Awards Winners."

St. Mary's College Web site,http://www.smcm.edu/english/ (July 28, 2004), "Lucille Clifton, Distingished Professor of the Humanities."

University of Buffalo Web site,http://www.math.buffalo.edu/ (July 28, 2004), "Lucille Clifton."

University of Illinois English Department Web site,http://www.english.uiuc.edu/ (April 23, 2001), "Modern American Poetry: About Lucille Clifton."

Voices from the Gaps: Women Writers of Color,http://voices.cla.umn.edu/ (April 23, 2001).

Washington Post Online,http://www.washingtonpost.com/ (November 23, 2002), Steven Gray, "A Quiet Poet Gains the Spotlight, National Book Award Recognizes Work of St. Mary's College Professor."*

About this article

Clifton, (Thelma) Lucille 1936-

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