Poet and esteemed teacher Lucille Clifton, died Saturday, February 13 in Maryland at the age of 73.
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
— Lucille Clifton
The three-time Pulitzers Prize nominee is remembered for her earthy and morally fibered poetry. An inspiring teacher of writing, she served as professor of literature and creative writing at the University of California, Santa Cruz, from 1985 to 1989, and as a Distinguished Professor of Literature and Distinguished Professor of Humanities at St. Mary’s College, Maryland, from 1989 to 1991, as well as professor of creative writing at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, beginning in 1998. She also was an acclaimed children’s book writer.
And, she was a leader and staff member of the Squaw Valley Community of Writers, of which I am a member. I have long admired Lucille for her artistic integrity, self-effacing humor and mastery of language. She provided me with a towering example of what a life in letters means to our society.
Lucille Clifton was the first African-American woman to serve as the Poet Laureate of the state of Maryland, a post she held from 1979 to 1985. With her passing, the literary world has lost one of it most accomplished artists.
Speaking to Michael S. Glaser, former Maryland poet laureate during an interview for the Antioch Review, Clifton commented about being inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. At the induction she addressed her colleagues as “scholars of the mind, scholars of the heart, and scholars of the spirit,” and remarked: “So often people think that intelligence is just about the mind, but, you know—especially in the humanities, you do have to explore both the mind and the heart.
Nobody is just mind. Absolutely nobody. Balance is the law of the universe, to balance the inside and the outside of people. It’s important.”
She relayed a story about a reading she’d given. “A guy came up and he said, ‘I really enjoyed that. Of course, I’m not into poetry because I’m a historian, and so I study the history of people.’ And I said, ‘So do I. You study the outside of them. I just study inside.'”
In Clifton’s interview with Glaser, she said she continued to write, because “writing is a way of continuing to hope … perhaps for me it is a way of remembering I am not alone.” How would Clifton like to be remembered? “I would like to be seen as a woman whose roots go back to Africa, who tried to honor being human. My inclination is to try to help.”
More about Lucille Clifton and her literary and artistic accomplishments is available at the Poetry Foundation Web site at: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/archive/poet.html?id=1304 .
A Squaw Valley Community of Writers scholarship to honor Lucille has been established. If you wish to contribute, please send donations made to Squaw Valley Community of Writers and mail to:
Squaw Valley Community of Writers
PO Box 1416
Nevada City, CA 95959
Tax ID: 23-7179177