Lucille Clifton

On Strength Gotten from Others

a mini-biography

a mini-bibliography


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On Strength Gotten from Others

When I was 5 years old I forgot my piece. It was the annual Christmas program of Macedonia Baptist Church-a splendid affair-and all of the young Sunday school members had been given poems and recitations to memorize. I forgot mine. I remember standing there on stage in my new Christmas dress, trying not to cry as the church members smiled, nodded and murmured encouragement from the front row.

"Go 'head, baby."
"Say it now, Luc."
"Come on now, baby"
But I couldn't remember, and to hide my deep humiliation, my embarassment, I became sullen, angry.
"I don' wanna."
And I stood there with my mouth poked out.

It was a scandal! This fresh young nobody baby standing in front of the Lord in His own house talking about what she don't want! I could feel the disapproval pouring over my new dress. Then, like a great tidal wave from the ocean of God, my sanctified mother poured down the Baptist aisle, huge as love, her hand outstretched toward mine.

"Come on, baby," she smiled, then turned to address the church: "She don't have to do nothing she don't want to do."

And I was at the same time empowered and made free...

In November of 1984 my beloved husband of almost 30 years died. I am making it because of my daughters, my sons, my woman friends. When I retreat into my room to just sit and stare or cry I can hear my mama speak through my four daughters. "She don't have to act strong if she don't want to." And they still love me.

We talk a lot, these four women and I, but then we always did. They grew up hearing stories I heard from mama and aunts and the old mothers of the church. It was, it is, the way we have continued in this country, passing on our own and the wider history and culture of America. Not just of Black America, of all of it, so that we know what life was like among Black people as well as white ones during slavery time because we heard and overheard the tales of Ole Miz and what happened when. It has been, it is, our strength, this talking and listening, because we have traditionally shared not only the outward cold and definite facts, but also the inward feeling and meaning of things.

Biography and Bibliography

Lucille Clifton (née Sayles) was born (June 27, 1936) and raised in Depew New York (a suburb of Buffalo). She attended Howard University from 1953 to 1955 and graduated from the State University of New York College at Fredonia (near Buffalo) 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). From 1971 to 1974 she was poet-in-residence at Coppin State College in Baltimore, and in 1979 she was named Poet Laureate of the state of Maryland.

In 1969 Ms. Cifton's first book, a collection of poetry entitled Good Times, was published and The New York Times as one of the year's 10 best books. Clifton worked in state and federal government positions until 1971, when she became a writer in residence at the Historically Black College Coppin State College in Baltimore, Maryland. Remaining at Coppin until 1974, she produced two further books of poetry, Good News About the Earth (1972) and An Ordinary Woman (1974). From 1982 to 1983 she was visiting writer at Columbia University School of the Arts and at George Washington University. Afterwards she taught literature and creative writing at the University of California at Santa Cruz (1985) and then at St.Mary's College of Maryland.

Clifton's later poetry collections include Next: New Poems (1987), Quilting: Poems 1987-1990 (1991), and The Terrible Stories (1996). Generations: A Memoir (1976) is a prose piece celebrating her origins, and Good Woman: Poems and a Memoir: 1969-1980 (1987) collects some of her previously published verse.

Clifton's many children's books, written expressly for an African-American audience in mind, include All Us Come Cross the Water (1973), My Friend Jacob (1980), and Three Wishes (1992). She also wrote an award-winning series of books featuring events in the life of Everett Anderson, a young black boy. These include Some of the Days of Everett Anderson (1970) and Everett Anderson's Goodbye (1983).

Her children's books now total over 20. Besides appearing in over 100 anthologies of poetry, she has come to popular attention through television appearances on the "Today Show", "Sunday Morning", with Charles Kuralt, "Nightline" and Bill Moyers' series, "The Power of the Word".

She received a Creative Writing Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1970 and 1973, and a grant from The American Academy of Poets. She has received the Shelley Memorial Prize, the Charity Randall prize, the Shestack Prize from the American Poetry Review, and an Emmy Award. In 1988, she became the first author to have two books of poetry chosen as finalists for the Pulitzer Prize (Good Woman: and Next: ). She is the author of numerous children's books and books of poetry, including The Book of Light, Next, terrible stories, Two Headed Woman and Good News About the Earth. She has been the Distinguished Professor of Humanities at St. Mary's College of Maryland from 1991 to the present, and lives in Columbia Maryland and has raised six children.


Beckles, Frances N. 20 Black Women. Gateway Press. Baltimore 1978.


We have no connection with, nor do we know how to contact, Ms. Clifton.

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