Campus News

March 1, 2010

Remembering poet Lucille Clifton

The recent opening of the Lucille Clifton archive at Emory’s Manuscript, Archives and Rare Book Library (MARBL) coincided unexpectedly with the esteemed poet’s passing on Feb. 13 at age 73.

Clifton’s archive, processed and opened to the public just one week prior, includes works from her long writing career, from early drafts of poems to work with then-editor Toni Morrison on Clifton’s prize-winning memoir, “Generations.”

“Her broad appeal and incisive style conveyed a fierce vision, one which, as she often said, saw poetry as testament to what it means to be human,” says Kevin Young, Atticus Haygood Professor of Creative Writing and English and curator of literary collections and the Raymond Danowski Poetry Library.

The Lucille Clifton collection at Emory, which Young says “reveals her popularity and esteemed standing in the literary world,” includes Clifton’s own library, from her youthful copy of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” to letters and books signed by Seamus Heaney, Derek Walcott, Sharon Olds and others.

Born outside Buffalo, N.Y. in 1936, Clifton came to prominence in the 1960s Black Arts Era. She went on to write a dozen books of poetry, author more than 17 children’s books, and to win the National Book Award for “Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems” in 2000. Having taught for many years as Distinguished Professor of Humanities at St. Mary’s College, she was recently affiliated with African American writing workshop Cave Canem.

Clifton was appointed chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She was to receive the prestigious Frost Medal from the Poetry Society of America this April; instead the ceremony will be a celebration of her work and life.

Clifton last visited Emory as part of the Raymond Danowski Poetry Library Reading Series in 2006, shortly before deciding to place her literary papers at MARBL.

Clifton also inaugurated the Raymond Danowski Poetry Library Reading Series tradition of limited-edition broadsides, giving the series a brand new poem to publish for the first time—“Aunt Jemima,” a poem that went on to be included in her latest book “Voices.” Clifton’s broadside is available for purchase through MARBL.

MARBL “is proud to house her collection of literary papers and books, both of which reveal the depth and breadth of her appeal and history,” Young says.

File Options

  • Print Icon Print