Vibrant Lives. Vibrant Stories.
Lucille Clifton 1936 - 2010

This biography was originally released on August 15, 2022 as a part of our on going series titled: Vibrant Lives. Vibrant Stories.
Written by Madison Matthews on the Staff of The Michigan Street African American Heritage Corridor Commission

Lucille Clifton was born June 27, 1936  in Depew, New York but grew up in Buffalo, New York. Clifton attended Fosdick-Masten High School where she graduated from in 1953. Clifton then attended Howard University from 1953 to 1955 then left to attend the State University of New York at Fredonia. Then in 1958 she married her husband, Fred James Clifton and they had six children together.

Starting Clifton’s successful career, she worked as a claims clerk at the New York State Division of Employment from 1958 - 1960 then she was a literature assistant at the Office of Education in Washington, D.C. from 1960 - 71. Due to her job in D.C. the family moved to Baltimore, Maryland in 1967. Moving on from 1971 - 1974 she was a poet in residence at Coppin State University and from 1979 - 1985 she was a Poet Laureate of Maryland. Then from 1985 - 1989 she was a professor of literature and creative writing at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Soon after, she was a visiting professor at Columbia University from 1995 - 1999. Clifton was also a fellow at Dartmouth College in 2006 and she was a distinguished professor of humanities at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. 

While working many jobs, Clifton was an amazing poet who wrote beautiful poems. Her first poem was “Random House” that was published in 1969 and it was rated the best book of the year by the New York Times. After the publishing of her first poem, she came across Langston Hughes and he published another one of her poems, “The Poetry of the Negro” published in the 1970s. Clifton then went on to become a residence writer at Coppin State College and she published two books, “Good News About the Earth” published at the Random House in 1972 and “An Ordinary Woman” published at the Random House in 1974. She was then the author of “Generations: A Memoir” published at the Random House in 1976. In 1980 she published the “Two-Headed Woman” at the University of Massachusetts Press and in 1987 she published “Good Woman: Poems and a Memoir 1969-1980” at BOA Editions which was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Then she was one of many authors to be a part of the “Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems 1988 - 2000” which won the National Book Award.

With the many poems Clifton has made, she has received many awards for them. Clifton was a nominee for the Pulitzer Prize and an awardee for the University of Massachusetts Press Juniper Prize. In 1999 she was elected a leader of the Academy of American Poets. She has also been awarded an Emmy Award from the American Academy of Television Arts and Science, a Lannan Literary Award, fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Shelley Memorial Award, the YM - YWHA Poetry Center Discovery Award, and the 2007 Ruth Lilly Prize. 

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Lucille Clifton was sadly battling cancer and eventually died on February 13, 2010 at 73 years old.

Thank you to our sources:

We want to give a special thanks to Poets.orgPoetry Foundation, and Wikipedia for providing the information for this story. Further readings on Lucille Clifton are available on their websites.

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