Clifton’s Family History
Lucille Clifton is a distinguished African American poet and a recipient of the National Book Award, numerous poetry and literary prizes, and honorary degrees from five colleges and universities. Her first collection of poems was published during the year after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., and in the year of her father’s death. She was thirty-three years old, and her mother had died eleven years earlier, at the age of forty-four. In the book’s title poem, she admonishes readers to “think about the good times.” The tough spirit of that practical wisdom—accepting, forgiving, determined, and celebratory—forms the predominant tone of her early works.
The voice that speaks this wisdom throughout Clifton’s poetry is the voice of an empowered and empowering woman, specifically a black woman whose identity has been molded by memories within a family that was given its genesis by American slavery. The family’s female progenitor, Caroline Sayle, was a midwife who was born eight years before her enslavement and who died long after the emancipation. Familial memories and Clifton’s art drive her in her poetry to sing about freedom, symbolized by Africa, and about a future symbolized especially by daughters and mothers yet to be born. Clifton’s poetry may be seen as an African American “Song of Myself” (1855): While she suffers grievous losses, her story echoes Walt Whitman’s affirmation in that nineteenth century poem that...
(The entire section is 536 words.)