Poet Lucille Clifton, 73, Two Time Nominee for Pulitzer Prize, Joins the Ancestors

This was a woman who with other themes, celebrated the joys of the black female body in poetry. At any age.

One of her oft-mentioned poems is “Homage to My Hips,” a poem that would probably be a favorite of Sir Mix-A-Lot’s. As you can see, Lucille Clifton was a big woman, probably grown larger from the births of her five children, and grandmother to several more. But she was still a beautiful woman.

Lucille Clifton (1936-2010)

homage to my hips

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!

From Poets.org:

[Thelma] Lucille [Sayles] Clifton was born in Depew, New York, on June 27, 1936. Her first book of poems, Good Times, was rated one of the best books of the year by the New York Times in 1969.

Clifton remained employed in state and federal government positions until 1971, when she became a writer in residence at Coppin State College in Baltimore, Maryland, where she completed two collections: Good News About the Earth (1972) and An Ordinary Woman (1974).

She [went] on to write several other collections of poetry, including Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems 1988-2000 (BOA Editions, 2000), which won the National Book Award; The Terrible Stories (1995), which was nominated for the National Book Award; The Book of Light (1993); Quilting: Poems 1987-1990 (1991); Next: New Poems (1987)

Her collection Good Woman: Poems and a Memoir 1969-1980 (1987) was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize; Two-Headed Woman (1980), also a Pulitzer Prize nominee, was the recipient of the University of Massachusetts Press Juniper Prize. She has also written Generations: A Memoir (1976) and more than sixteen books for children, written expressly for an African-American audience.

Her honors include an Emmy Award from the American Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, a Lannan Literary Award, two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Shelley Memorial Award, the YM-YWHA Poetry Center Discovery Award, and the 2007 Ruth Lilly Prize.

In 1999, she was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. She [served] as Poet Laureate for the State of Maryland and is currently Distinguished Professor of Humanities at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.

After a long battle with cancer, Lucille Clifton died on February 13, 2010, at the age of 73.

My favorite of her fourteen books of poetry and memoirs (and sixteen children’s books–she was the mother of five children) was Two Headed Woman, which won the Juniper Prize in 1980. It was also the first book I had read from her, and she was a revelation. Reading her made me feel good about living and about being a black woman.

And this is one of my favorite poems from that book, something that made me relish the prospect of becoming older:

homage to my hair

when I feel her jump and dance
i hear the music! my God
i’m talking about my nappy hair!
she is a challenge to your hand
black man,
she is as tasty on your tongue as good greens
black man
she can touch your mind
with her electric fingers and
the grayer she do get, good God
the blacker she do be!

Always black, always woman, your poems are always in my heart, Lucille.


~ by blksista on February 15, 2010.

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