A Tribute to Lucille Clifton

Lucille Clifton lived in Columbia, Maryland, where Little Patuxent Review is published. In 1979, Lucille became the second woman and first African-American to serve as Poet Laureate of Maryland. In 1988, she was a Pulitzer Prize in Poetry finalist for Good Woman: Poems and a Memoir 1969-1980 and Next: New Poems. In 2000, she received the National Book Foundation Poetry Award for Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems, 1988-2000. In 2007, she was the first African-American woman to be awarded the Poetry Foundation Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize for her body of work. Along the way, she even shared an Emmy Award as co-writer of the TV special Free to Be…You and Me. Lucille Clifton died on February 13, 2010 after waging a prolonged battle with cancer.

There’s a lot to say about Lucille, but her poetry speaks for itself. And now that I’ve gone gray and put on pounds, certain poems, in particular, speak to me. Here’s one where, as Margalit Fox noted in The New York Times, the historical and personal converge:

homage to my hips
Lucille Clifton

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!

But you can’t fully appreciate this poem until you see Lucille read it, so here she is:


Yesterday, Little Patuxent Review people–Editor Laura Shovan and Contributing Editors Linda Joy Burke and Susan Thornton Hobby–got together with poets Virginia Crawford and Edgar Silex as well as Lucille’s youngest daughter, Alexia Clifton, to stage a tribute to the poet and person that they knew and loved. The event not only included readings from the newly released The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton 1965-2010 but also a few on-the-spot poems that some audience members had created in response to Lucille’s poems.

The event was held during the 2012 Baltimore Book Festival in the CityLit tent and was included as part of the 100 Thousand Poets for Change annual global initiative. Here’s a quick look, thanks to photos taken by Laura and daughter Julia as well as Sam Schmitt:

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According to Laura, “It was a great panel discussion. Many people approached me about how much they enjoyed it. Even my mother, who does not read poetry, was so fascinated that she came home and read Lucille’s Collected Poems for about an hour.”

Note: Lucille Clifton was featured in our Summer 2008 Childhood issue. We introduced you to our partner for the Clifton event in “Meet the Neighbors: CityLit Project.” You can catch Won’t You Celebrate With Me? Honoring the Life and Poetic Legacy of Lucille Cliftona photography exhibit, at the Enoch Pratt Free Library.

8 thoughts on “A Tribute to Lucille Clifton

  1. Laura Shovan

    I interviewed Lucille for a 2004 Baltimore Sun article on the Geraldine R. Dodge Festival. We sat outside the big festival tent with my little cassette recorder between us. It was noisy — loud audience in the tent, people walking around, Yarina playing Andean music behind us. I was distracted and also overwhelmed to be sitting with this person I so admired. Lucille was characteristically calm, gracious, and able to give me her full attention, even in that setting. She had a way of putting others at ease.

    Beautiful person. It was lovely to spend Saturday afternoon with people who knew Lucille and her work so well.


  2. Clarinda Harriss

    Great article about a great event (the Baltimore Book Fair panel) and a truly great person/poet. In her infinite generosity, she gave many readings at The Angel, a Fells Point bar where Dyane Fancey and I ran readings every single Sunday for three years. These Sunday events drew readers ranging from Josephine Jacobsen and W. D. Snodgrass to bag ladies and drunks (some of the latter were actually pretty good). Lucille Clifton was, of course, a star in The Angel’s crown.

    Her friendship and the anecdotes she told me also have proved to be a source of inspiration to me personally and to have sparked a number of my own pieces.


  3. E M

    Thank you for this wonderful article. There is an exhibition that is a tribute to Lucille Clifton called Among Poets: Maryland’s Poet Laureate Lucille Clifton that is on view at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum in Baltimore, MD until December 30. For details, visit http://www.rflewismuseum.org.


  4. Pingback: So I’m working on a book… | Late Nights With Bobby Bowtie…

  5. Pingback: Reader Response: The REAL Lucille Clifton | Little Patuxent Review

  6. Pingback: Book Review: The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton 1965-2010 | Little Patuxent Review

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