Lucille Clifton

(1936 - 2010)

Photograph of Lucille Clifton

Lucille Clifton is an accomplished and nationally-recognized poet and author, college faculty member, and mother of six children. She is also the former Poet Laureate of Maryland.  Clifton's career reflects her self-satisfaction as a strong, black woman who believes that only by accepting individual responsibility can people live a better life. 

Thelma Lucille Sayles was born in 1936 in Depew, New York, a small town outside of Buffalo. Her mother, a poet, encouraged her creativity and the young girl began to compose stories and poems as a child. Lucille was the first person in her family to graduate from high school and, in 1953, she won a scholarship to Howard University in Washington, D.C., where she majored in drama. However, she left Howard after two years after deciding that she would rather write poetry.

A year after leaving Howard, Lucille attended Fredonia State Teacher's College (now State University of New York at Fredonia). In 1958, she married Fred Clifton.

Lucille Clifton's first volume of poetry, Good Times: Poems, was published in 1969. It was cited by the New York Times as one of 1969's ten best books. Since then, Clifton has published thirty volumes of poetry and books for children and adults. Her writing focuses on themes related to African-American women and families. It has been noted that her pride as a black woman has helped her write positively about overcoming the difficulties faced by those living in the inner city. In 1987, Clifton was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for GoodWomen: Poems and Memoir.

Clifton's talent has especially been noted in her works for children. My Friend Jacob is the story of a friendship between two children, one of whom is disabled. This book won the Access to Equality Conference Award for Children's Literature in "Recognition for Outstanding Treatment of Disabled Children."

Lucille Clifton has been honored many times throughout her careere. She has earned honorary degrees from the University of Maryland and Towson State University. She was the poet in residence at Coppin State College in Baltimore between 1971 and 1974. Clifton's greatest Maryland Honor came in 1979, when she became the second woman and the first African American to serve as Maryland's Poet Laureate. She held this position until 1982.

The following year, Clifton was a visiting writer at both Columbia University School of the Arts and George Washington University. She became a professor of literature and creative writing at the University of California, Santa Cruz in 1985.

After several years in California, Lucille clifton returned to Maryland in 1989. Since then, she has been a faculty member of St. Mary's College in St. Mary's City, Maryland. She conducts numerous seminars and workshops for Maryland students, writers and educators.


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