Lucille Clifton (1936-2010) was a prolific poet, children’s book author, and professor. Clifton’s poetry focuses mainly on the strength and endurance one must possess in order to live as a Black American, though it also explores other aspects of her identity, such as being a woman and a poet. She taught at a number of different universities throughout her life, including Dartmouth and Columbia. Clifton was a Distinguished Professor of Humanities at St. Mary’s College of Maryland and a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

Prior to her becoming a world famous writer and working for the most prestigious universities in the country, Clifton held a number of government positions. She worked as a claims clerk at the New York State Division of Employment and later a literature assistant at in the Office of Education in Washington, D.C. Outside of her work life, Clifton was a mother to six children and a wife to just one man, Fred James Clifton, a philosophy professor and sculptor. He died of cancer in 1984.

Clifton’s first book of poetry, Good Times, was published in 1969 and listed by the New York Times as one of the top ten best books of the year. Prior to this, however, several of her poems were included in Langston Hughes’ anthology The Poetry of the Negro (1966).

From this point on, Clifton churned out book after book, collecting awards along the way. Most impressively, she is the first author to have two books of poetry both be finalists for the same year’s Pulitzer Prize. The books named were Good Woman: Poems and a Memoir and Next: New Poems, both published in 1987. From 1979 to 1985 she was Poet Laureate of Maryland.

Clifton is often praised for allowing few words to tell large stories of experiences across generations — her work is both nuanced and rich. In an interview for the Antioch Review, Clifton reflected that 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.”