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Lucille Clifton

Lucille Clifton (June 27, 1936 – February 13, 2010)

Writer/Poet/Educator

During Black History Month 2014, the Center for the Church and the Black Experience is honoring faithful Black women freedom fighters. Today we honor Lucille Clifton.

Lucille CliftonOne of the most prolific, creative voices of our time, Lucille Clifton’s work is best remembered for its brilliant use of colloquial vernacular and creative word images, carrying a spirit of the community to the literary world.

Ms. Clifton’s talent was first recognized by the great Langston Hughes, who included her poems in his 1966 anthology The Poetry Of The Negro. Her first poetry collection, the critically acclaimed “Good Times” (1969), was listed among the New York Times’ 10 best books for that year. Her work captured the continuing struggle for Black equality, for women’s liberation.

Ms. Clifton won numerous literary awards throughout her career, including the prestigious Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize in 2007 and, National Book Award for Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems, 1988-2000 (2000). She was also the first author to have two books of poetry chosen as finalists for the Pulitzer Prize: Good Woman: Poems and a Memoir, 1969-1980 (1987) and Next: New Poems (1987). In 1984 she won the Coretta Scott King Award for her children’s series Everett Anderson’s Good-bye. Ms. Clifton also served as Maryland's poet laureate from 1974 until 1985.

Ms. Clifton’s extensive career as an educator in creative writing and literature includes stints at Coppin State College, as poet-in-residence, 1974-79. She also held various teaching posts at: University of California, Santa Cruz; St. Mary's College, and visiting professor at Columbia University School of the Arts 1995-99.

Ms. Clifton died on February 13, 2010 at the age of 73.

"The Thirty Eighth Year"
By © Lucille Clifton

the thirty eighth year
of my life,
plain as bread
round as a cake
an ordinary woman

an ordinary woman

i had expected to be
smaller than this,
more beautiful,
wiser in Afrikan ways,
more confident,
i had expected
more than this.

i will be forty soon
my mother once was forty

my mother died at forty four,
a woman of sad countenance
leaving behind a girl
awkward as a stork.
my mother was thick,
her hair was a jungle and
she was very wise
and beautiful
and sad.

i have dreamed dreams
for you mama
more than once.
i have wrapped me
in your skin
and made you live again
more than once.
I have taken the bones you hardened
and built daughters
and they blossom and promise fruit
like Afrikan trees.
i am a woman now,
an ordinary woman.

in the thirty eighth
year of my life,
surrounded by life,
a perfect picture of
blackness blessed,
i had not expected this
loneliness.

if it is western,
if it is the final
Europe in my mind,
if in the middle of my life
I am turning the final turn
into the shining dark
let me come to it whole
and holy
not afraid
not lonely
out of my mother's life
into my own.
into my own.

i had expected more than this.
i had not expected to be
an ordinary woman

Sources:
Photo: BOA Additions - http://tinyurl.com/kjesuwt (Accessed 1/15/14))
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/17/arts/17clifton.html (Accessed 12/17/12)
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/lucille-clifton (Accessed 12/15/12)

Compiled by Beverly Moore

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