Lucille Clifton (1936-2010) was an African American poet, writer and teacher. Nominated twice for the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry, Clifton also served as the Poet Laureate of Maryland from 1979 to 1985. Born in Buffalo, New York, Thelma Lucille Sayles attended both Howard University and SUNY Fredonia. In 1958, she married Fred James Clifton, a professor of philosophy at the University of Buffalo.
In 1966, the writer Ishmael Reed, a friend, took some of her poems to Langston Hughes, who included them in an anthology. The following year, the Cliftons moved to Baltimore, and Lucille’s first collection, Good Times, was published in 1969. The New York Times called it one of the year’s ten best books. Between 1971 and 1974, she was the poet-in-residence at Coppin State College in Baltimore, before becoming the Poet Laureate of Maryland.
Lucille Clifton also serves as a visiting writer at Columbia University and George Washington University. From 1985 to 1989, she was a professor of literature and creative writing at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and was later a fellow at Dartmouth College.
Lucille Clifton’s poetry was frequently a celebration of African-American heritage and the female body. She was born with an extra finger on each hand, a condition known as polydactyly. Even though the fingers were surgically removed when she was a small child, she often wrote about her “ghost fingers.”