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Lucille Clifton

Courtesy of The Poetry Foundation

Lucille Clifton was born in 1936 in DePew, New York, and grew up in Buffalo, NY. She studied at Howard University before transferring to SUNY Fredonia, near her hometown. She was discovered as a poet by Langston Hughes (via friend Ishmael Reed, who shared her poems), and Hughes published Clifton’s poetry in his highly influential anthology, The Poetry of the Negro (1970). A prolific and widely respected poet, Lucille Clifton’s work emphasizes endurance and strength through adversity, focusing particularly on Black experience and family life. Awarding the prestigious Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize to Clifton in 2007, the judges remarked that, “One always feels the looming humaneness around Lucille Clifton’s poems—it is a moral quality that some poets have and some don’t.” The looming humanness in her poetry reflected the realities of her life, including mothering six children, the tragic loss of her husband and two of her six children, and surviving breast cancer and kidney cancer. 

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In addition to the Ruth Lilly prize, Clifton 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 (1987) and Next: New Poems (1987). Her collection Two-Headed Woman (1980) was also a Pulitzer nominee and won the Juniper Prize from the University of Massachusetts. Lucille Clifton served as the state of Maryland’s poet laureate from 1974 until 1985 and won the prestigious National Book Award for Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems, 1988-2000. In addition to her numerous poetry collections and non-fiction prose, she wrote many children’s books.


Clifton was a Distinguished Professor of Humanities at St. Mary’s College of Maryland and a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. Her writing covered countless subjects in important ways, leading her poetry to be read by people with a wide variety of backgrounds and interests.

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