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Biographical background on 2005 Dartmouth honorary degree recipientsLUCILLE CLIFTON(Doctor of Letters)

Posted 04/28/05 • Contact Roland Adams (603) 646-3661

Lucille Clifton
Lucille Clifton

Poet Laureate of the State of Maryland from 1975-85, Clifton has received many fellowships and awards for her poetry collections and children's books, including the Shelley Memorial Prize, a Charity Randall Citation, an Emmy Award from the American Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, selection as a Literary Lion by the New York Public Library, the Shestack Poetry Prize and a Lannan Achievement Award in Poetry. She is the only poet who has had two books named as finalists for the Pulitzer Prize in the same year (1988, for "Good Woman: Poems and a Memoir" and "Next: New Poems.") In 2000 her poem "Jasper, Texas" won a Pushcart Prize and her book "Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems, 1988-2000" won the National Book Award for poetry.

Born and raised in Depew, New York (a suburb of Buffalo), Lucille Sayles attended Howard University for three years and graduated from the State University of New York College at Fredonia in 1955. In 1958 she married Fred James Clifton. She worked as a claims clerk in the Buffalo office of the New York State Division of Employment for two years and as literature assistant in the Office of Education in Washington, D.C. (1960-1971). In 1969 her first book, a collection of poetry entitled "Good Times," was published, winning praise from The New York Times as one of the year's ten best books.

From 1971 to 1974 she was poet-in-residence at Coppin State College, and in 1979 was named Poet Laureate of the State of Maryland. During this time 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 with 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: "Some of the Days of Everett Anderson" (1970) and "Everett Anderson's Goodbye" (1983). Besides appearing in more than 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 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 been the Distinguished Professor of Humanities at St. Mary's College of Maryland from 1991 to the present.

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