Poet Lucille Clifton Dies at Age 73

BY Tom LeGro  February 15, 2010 at 10:41 AM EST

Our “Weekly Poem” is by Lucille Clifton, a National Book Award-winning poet and Pulitzer Prize finalist who died Saturday after a long fight with cancer. She was 73.

Clifton’s sister, Elaine Philip of Buffalo, N.Y., said the former poet laureate of Maryland passed away Saturday morning at Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore.

Clifton, who was also a distinguished professor of humanities at St. Mary’s College of Maryland until her retirement in 2008, often wrote on race, gender and the importance of family and community in the face of economic oppression.

“homage to my hips”

these hips are big hips
they need space to
move around in.
they don’t fit into little
petty places. these hips
are free hips.
they don’t like to be held back.
these hips have never been enslaved,
they go where they want to go
they do what they want to do.
these hips are mighty hips.
these hips are magic hips.
i have known them
to put a spell on a man and
spin him like a top!


Born in Depew, N.Y., in 1936 to working class parents, Clifton attended Howard University at age 16.

She wrote several books of poetry, including “Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems 1988-2000,” which won the National Book Award, “The Terrible Stories,” which was nominated for the National Book Award, and “Good Woman: Poems and a Memoir 1969-1980” and “Two-Headed Woman,” both nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in 1987.

Clifton served as Poet Laureate of Maryland from 1979 to 1982. Her achievements also include several fellowships and honorary degrees; a Lannan Literary Award; two grants from the National Endowment of the Arts; and an Emmy Award from the American Academy of Television Arts and Sciences; the Shelley Memorial Award; the YM-YWHA Poetry Center Discovery Award; and the 2007 Ruth Lilly Prize.

Much more about Clifton can be found at the Poetry Foundation. Below are two videos of Clifton: Her 2006 appearance on the NewsHour in which she reflects on the anniversary of 9/11 and a reading at the 2006 Dodge Poetry Festival.