Wednesday, February 17, 2010

More on Our Wise Woman

DWC Friends,

Here's the official press release from our friends at BOA Editions, regarding the passing of Lucille Clifton.

National Book Award-winning Poet Lucille Clifton Dies

Rochester, NY — BOA Editions is sad to mark the passing of poet Lucille Clifton on February 13, 2010. Lucille Clifton (born Thelma Lucille Sayles) was raised in Depew, New York. She attended Howard University from 1953 to 1955 and graduated from the State University of New York at Fredonia in 1955. In 1958 she married Fred James Clifton. She worked as a claims clerk in the New York State Division of Employment, Buffalo (1958–1960), and as literature assistant in the Office of Education in Washington, D.C. (1960–1971). Her first poetry collection Good Times was published in 1969, and listed by The New York Times as one of the year's ten best books.

Lucille Clifton published seven poetry collections with BOA Editions. Her first two BOA collections, Next: New Poems, and, Good Woman: Poems and a Memoir 1969-1980, were both published in 1987. In one of her many unprecedented accomplishments, both of those books were named finalists for the Pulitzer Prize in 1988. She was awarded the National Book Award for Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems 1988-2000 (BOA, 2000). In 2007, Lucille Clifton became the first African American woman to receive the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize from the Poetry Foundation, one of the largest literary honors for work in the English language. Her other awards include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts; an Emmy Award from the American Academy of Television Arts and Sciences; the Shelley Memorial Prize; and the Charity Randall Citation. The Poetry Society of America awarded Clifton their Centennial Frost Medal for 2010.

Thom Ward, Clifton’s editor at BOA Editions, said of her poetry, “Lucille Clifton’s poems have their own special ‘signature’ as, say, the work of Elizabeth Bishop and Emily Dickinson. Mixing spare, muscular, visual language, a deft balance of idea and image with powerful silences and taut line-breaks – you always know when you are in the presence of a Clifton poem.”

Longtime BOA poet Naomi Shihab Nye says, of the lasting power of Lucille Clifton’s work, “How many times have her humanizing words helped us in these devastating years of doublespeak, war and doubt? No matter what was going on or where we found ourselves, her words and tone were balance beams, lifting us back into energy and verve. Cleansing the air! All these years, she swept clutter away with a few well-filtered lines. Once, shortly after a grueling hospital stay, she showed up at the Folger Library with students, for a reading by Arab Americans—when we said, "’It's incredible that you made the effort to come!’ she said, ‘Where else would I be?’ She showed up. Always in this life. It's that grace she leaves us.”

Li-Young Lee, BOA poet and friend of Clifton, notes, "If the chief aim of civilization is to provide security for human beings, Lucille was one of its finest builders and architects. Her work sorts meaning from noise, sense from nonsense, good readings of our world from bad readings. She was a friend to me, a mentor, and a mirror of my better self. I loved her and learned to love the world because of her."

Lucille Clifton served as a Distinguished Professor of Humanities at St. Mary's College in Maryland. She was appointed a Fellow of The American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and elected as Chancellor of The Academy of American Poets in 1999. Memorably, Lucille Clifton dedicated her first BOA collection, Next: New Poems, to her recently deceased husband Fred. The dedication read simply:

to fred
see you later alligator

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