Women and Adversity:
First Black Poet Laureate of Maryland
Lucille Clifton aimed to have Americans realize, through her poetry and other writings, that Blacks made noteworthy contributions in the United States. She is known for the impact her poems make with the fewest words. The New York Times rated her first book of poems, Good Times, one of the best books published in 1969. She writes of survival under arduous circumstances, oppression, politics, women’s lives and family, which is the theme of this blog, Women and Adversity. Her poems like “sorrow song,” “blessing the boats” and “jasper texas 1998” bring tears at the insight she has to inhumanity in our culture. She is quoted as often saying, “In my poems I try to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”
Thelma Lucille Sayles was born June 27, 1936, in Depew, New York, near Buffalo. She was the first in her family to graduate from high school. She attended Howard University in Washington, D.C. and Fredonia State Teachers College in New York but didn’t stay to earn a degree.
In 1958 she married Fred Clifton, a philosophy professor. The couple had six children. Lucille Clifton worked in state and federal government jobs until 1971 when she accepted a position as poet-in-residence at Coppin State College in Baltimore, MD. During her tenure there from 1972-1974 she published two collections of her poetry, Good News About the Earth in 1972, and An Ordinary Woman in 1974. She was Poet Laureate of Maryland from 1979-85.
She was visiting writer at Columbia University School of the Arts and George Washington University and later taught literature and creative writing at University of California at Santa Cruz and at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.
Clifton won the National Book Award for Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems, 1988-2000 in 2000, one of her ten books of poetry. She wrote more than 20 children’s books, specifically written for African Americans, and Generations, a memoir published in 1976.
Clifton died of cancer 11 years ago on February 13, 2010, in Baltimore.
She is featured in my ebook, Women and Adversity, Honoring 23 Black Women.
Carter G. Woodson founded Black History Week February 7, 1926, but it wasn’t until 1976 when President Gerald Ford designated February as Black History Month that it was officially part of the U.S. calendar. It always has a theme, but I believe that gets lost once February starts. The theme for 2021 is “Black Family: Representation identity and Diversity.”