|Birth: ||Jun. 26, 1936|
|Death: ||Feb. 13, 2010|
Lucille Clifton, a distinguished American poet whose work trained lenses wide and narrow on the experience of being black and female in the 20th century, exploring vast subjects like the indignities of history and intimate ones like the indignities of the body, died on Feb. 13 in Baltimore. She was 73 and lived in Columbia, Md.
The precise cause of death had not been determined, her sister, Elaine Philip, told The Associated Press on Sunday. Ms. Clifton, who had cancer, had been hospitalized recently with an infection.
Ms. Clifton received a National Book Award in 2000 for "Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems, 1988-2000," published by BOA Editions. In 2007, she became the first African-American woman to win the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, a $100,000 award that is one of American poetry's signal honors.
Her book "Good Woman: Poems and a Memoir, 1969-1980" (BOA, 1987) was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry in 1988.
Besides producing a dozen volumes of poetry, Ms. Clifton wrote many well-received books of prose and verse for children that centered on the African-American experience.
Widely anthologized, Clifton's poetry combined an intense, sometimes earthy voice with a streamlined economy of language. (She frequently did away with punctuation and capitalization as so much unwanted baggage.) Her subject matter spanned large ethical questions like slavery and its legacy and more daily concerns like family and community.
Her poems were frequently autobiographical. She could write unflinchingly of personal hardship, including being sexual abused by her father when she was a girl and her struggles with cancer and kidney failure as an adult. Yet, as critics remarked, she was steadfast in her refusal to cast herself as a victim.
Thelma Lucille Sayles was born on June 27, 1936, in Depew, N.Y., and reared in nearby Buffalo. Her father, Samuel, was a steelworker; her mother, Thelma, worked in a laundry.
Ms. Clifton attended Howard University but left before graduating to pursue poetry. Returning to Buffalo, she became part of a group of black artists and intellectuals there. In 1958 she married Fred Clifton, who taught philosophy and African-American studies at the University at Buffalo, eventually settling with him in Maryland.
Some of Ms. Clifton's early work was published in "The Poetry of the Negro, 1746-1970" (Doubleday, 1970), edited by Langston Hughes and Arna Bontemps.
The poet laureate of Maryland from 1979 to 1985, Ms. Clifton was a writer in residence at Coppin State College, now Coppin State University, a historically black college in Baltimore. She later taught at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and, most recently, at St. Mary's College of Maryland.
Ms. Clifton's husband died in 1984; a son, Channing, and a daughter, Frederica, also died before her. Besides her sister, survivors include a son, Graham; three daughters, Sidney, Gillian and Alexia; and three grandchildren.
Throughout Ms. Clifton's work, the historical and the personal often converged in a single poem, as in "homage to my hips," here in its entirety:
these hips are big hips
they need space to
move around in.
they don't fit into little
petty places. these hips
are free hips.
they don't like to be held back.
these hips have never been enslaved,
they go where they want to go
they do what they want to do.
these hips are mighty hips.
these hips are magic hips.
i have known them
to put a spell on a man and
spin him like a top!
Created by: Laurie
Record added: Mar 03, 2010
Find A Grave Memorial# 49038713