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Lucille Clifton traced her family's roots to the West African Kingdom of Dahomey . . . Growing up she was told by her mother, "Be proud, you're from Dahomey women!"

She cites as one of her ancestors the first black woman to be "legally hanged" for manslaughter in the state of Kentucky during the time of Slavery in the United States.



Books by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers

The Gospel of Barbecue  / Outlandish Blues  / Red Clay Suite

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Books by Lucille Clifton

The Book of Light  / Quilting / Next  / the terrible stories /Blessing the Boats

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Lucille Clifton Still Missed and Always Loved

By Honorée Fanonne Jeffers 


Today, February 13, 2011, is the one-year anniversary of Poet Lucille Clifton’s passing. It’s been a tough year, and a lonely year with my grief. I will admit that.

Other people knew the poems and the public persona, and I loved the poems, too, no doubt. But I loved the lady as well and she was my friend; it’s hard to explain to people that “I met her after a great reading” or “I teach her poems” is not the same as a real friendship. And the grief can’t be the same, either.

Sometimes, I’ve been so angry when I’ve mentioned online missing Miss Lucille, only to have a fan of hers say, “Oh, I know what you mean; I miss her, too.” If the fan is an African American, sometimes they refer to her as “Mama Lucille.”

I try to understand that Miss Lucille’s work meant so much to so many, but I gotta say, the narcissistic quality of  these encounters over this past year—the “ok, back to me and my feelings” vibe—burns me up. More than that, these encounters have been emotionally painful.

For example, last September (2010), I read as part of a public memorial for Miss Lucille at the Furious Flower Center at James Madison University. There were seventy-three poets and each of us was given a poem by Miss Lucille to read. Much to my embarrassment, I broke down into sobs onstage before it was my time to read and the poet Kevin Young—also a good friend of Miss Lucille—came on stage to comfort me and help me get myself together. I did get myself together, and gave the reading of the one poem I had been assigned, which was (ironically) about crying.

After the memorial, though, several people came up to me and congratulated me on my “acting skills.” They thought I had staged the whole thing.  One Black lady in particular kept hounding me. (“You’re an actress, right?” Those were her first words to me.) I kept walking away from the woman while she kept trying to get me to admit I was lying about not faking my tears, but she kept coming back to find me. Finally, I had to have some choice words with her to make her leave me alone. I’ll leave it at that.

I was appalled. I couldn’t believe that people would think I was so tacky to fake tears—until I remembered that 99.9% of the folks in that audience only had a relationship with Miss Lucille’s poems and not Miss Lucille the woman. I had been counting on the public memorial to help me get past my grief; I thought I could share what I felt with other Black poets and this would make me feel better, but instead, I ended up feeling embarrassed, misunderstood, and even more alone.

Sidebar: I’m not a blood child of Miss Lucille, who had four daughters and two sons.  Just like “I teach her poems” isn’t the same as “she was my friend,” I am very aware that “she was my friend” is not the same as “she was my mother.” I don’t know how her children feel, and I would never try to say my grief could be the same as theirs, because it can’t be.

No matter what anyone says, a friendship can’t equal being someone’s blood child, someone who shared the same heartbeat and blood inside a mother’s body, and rested in her womb, and then drank her breast milk outside—or, if you are adopted child, being raised by a woman, day in and day out, living in her house, being protected by her, eating the food she prepares for you, and nestling inside the comfort of her unconditional embrace.

Yes, it’s been a very sad year, but I have changed and grown in ways I could never imagine over this year, even in my grief, or perhaps because of it. I am stronger and more fearless.  I’m a woman now, more than ever, and I understand some of what Miss Lucille understood and tried to tell me, though I will never be a mother like she was. What hasn’t changed is my love and devotion of her.

I know it’s time for me to let Miss Lucille rest now, though it’s so hard.  I’ll remember her birthday every year, of course, but in some Native American communities, it is considered wrong to keep calling the names of the dead over and over, lest you disturb them. I don’t know if that’s true, but I know I want her to be happy and at peace.

It’s time for me to be private about my feelings, so I don’t think I will keep talking about them. I know I have to move on, in public at least, but I wanted to celebrate Miss Lucille,  before I stop calling her name in public constantly.

Here is a link to a podcast I did with poets Nikky Finny, Elizabeth Alexander, Lyrae Van Clief Stefanon, Kelly Norman Ellis, and Miss Lucille’s first-born daughter, Sidney Clifton. It was in celebration of Miss Lucille’s birthday, June 27. [When you get to the page, click "Episode 8.]

And below is a video I found of Miss Lucille reading with the Lannan Foundation—a full reading, not just a snippet–and then an interview with the poet Quincy Troupe, who was a good friend of Miss Lucille. I hope you enjoy it. Miss Lucille is looking so pretty in her outfit. She loved very colorful blouses in shades of blue, and loved you to tell her how cute she was looking in them.

The videos take a few seconds to load up, so please be patient. If it doesn’t load for you, click this link to go directly to the site.

Enjoy–and when you watch the video, don’t forget to say, “Miss Lucille, you’re looking pretty cute in that outfit.” She would really, really appreciate that, y’all.

13 February 2011

Source: phillisremastered

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Lucille Clifton, Reading, 21 May 1996

Lucille Clifton was born in 1936 in Depew, New York. Her luminous and incisive poems have been published in nine books, including The Book of Light, Quilting, and Next.

Ms. Clifton has said, “I’ve always been a person who found more interesting the stories between the stories. I’ve always wondered the hows and the whys to things. Why is this like this? What has gone into making us who we are? Is it good or not so good? What is destroying us? What will keep us warm?”

Ms. Clifton, who has also written numerous books for children, received a Lannan Literary Award for Poetry in 1996. She was Distinguished Professor for Humanities at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. Ms Clifton died on February 13th, 2010.

This event was recorded in Los Angeles, CA. You may learn more about this event on the Lannan website,

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Lucille Clifton (born Thelma Lucille Sayles 27 June 1936) grew up in Buffalo, New York, and graduated from Fosdick-Masten Park High School in 1953. She went on to study on a scholarship at Howard University from 1953 to 1955, and after leaving over poor grades, studied at the State University of New York at Fredonia (near Buffalo).

In 1958, she married Fred James Clifton, a professor of Philosophy, at the University of Buffalo and sculptor whose carvings depicted African faces. Lucille worked as a claims clerk in the New York State Division of Employment, Buffalo (1958–1960), and as literature assistant in the Office of Education in Washington, D.C. (1960–1971). Writer Ishmael Reed, introduced Mrs. Clifton to her husband Fred, while he was organizing The Buffalo Community Drama Workshop. Fred and Lucille Clifton starred in the group's version of "The Glass Menagerie" which was called "Poetic and Sensitive" by The Buffalo Evening News.

In 1966, Reed took Mrs. Clifton's poetry to Langston Hughes, who included them in his anthology The Poetry Of The Negro. In 1967, they moved to Baltimore, Maryland.  Her first poetry collection Good Times was published in 1969, and listed by The New York Times as one of the year's 10 best books. From 1971 to 1974, Lucille Clifton was poet-in-residence at Coppin State College in Baltimore. From 1979 to 1985, she was Poet Laureate of the state of Maryland. From 1982 to 1983 she was visiting writer at Columbia University School of the Arts and at George Washington University. In 1984, her husband died of cancer.

From 1985 to 1989, Clifton was a professor of literature and creative writing at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She was Distinguished Professor of Humanities at St. Mary's College of Maryland. From 1995 to 1999, she was Visiting Professor at Columbia University. In 2006, she was a fellow at Dartmouth College.

Lucille Clifton traced her family's roots to the West African Kingdom of Dahomey, now the Republic of Benin.

Growing up she was told by her mother, "Be proud, you're from Dahomey women!" She cites as one of her ancestors the first black woman to be "legally hanged" for manslaughter in the state of Kentucky during the time of Slavery in the United States. Girls in her family are born with an extra finger on each hand, a genetic trait known as polydactyly.

Lucille's two extra fingers were amputated surgically when she was a small child, a common practice at that time for reasons of superstition and social stigma. Her "two ghost fingers" and their activities became a theme in her poetry and other writings. Health problems in her later years included painful gout which gave her some difficulty in walking.

In 2007, Clifton won the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize; the $100,000 prize honors a living U.S. poet whose "lifetime accomplishments warrant extraordinary recognition." Clifton is set to receive the Robert Frost Medal for lifetime achievement posthumously, from the Poetry Society of America.Wikipedia

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Poems by Lucille Clifton

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.

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Cutting Greens

curling them around
i hold their bodies in obscene embrace
thinking of everything but kinship.
collards and kale
strain against each strange other
away from my kissmaking hand and
the iron bedpot.
the pot is black.
the cutting board is black,
my hand,
and just for a minute
the greens roll black under the knife,
and the kitchen twists dark on its spine
and i taste in my natural appetite
the bond of live things everywhere.

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My Mama Moved among the Days

My Mama moved among the days
like a dreamwalker in a field;
seemed like what she touched was here
seemed like what touched her couldn't hold,
she got us almost through the high grass
then seemed like she turned around and ran
right back in
right back on in

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Poem in praise of menstruation

if there is a river
more beautiful than this
bright as the blood
red edge of the moon if
there is a river
more faithful than this
returning each month
to the same delta if there

is a river
braver than this
coming and coming in a surge
of passion, of pain if there is

a river
more ancient than this
daughter of eve
mother of cain and of abel if there is in

the universe such a river if
there is some where water
more powerful than this wild

pray that it flows also
through animals
beautiful and faithful and ancient
and female and brave

posted 14 February 2011

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The Book of Light

By Lucille Clifton

Clifton's (Quilting) latest collection clearly demonstrates why she was twice nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. These poems contain all the simplicity and grace readers have come to expect from her work. The first few pages set the title in a larger perspective at the same time that they announce the book's premise: "woman, i am / lucille, which stands for light." This is a feminist version of Roots , charged with outrage at the sins done to women of previous generations. There are the typical heroes and anti-heroes: Atlas, Sisyphus, Leda, biblical women--but even these tired figures are given a new, often comic, twist: Naomi, for example, doesn't want Ruth's devotion, just to be left alone to "grieve in peace"; several poems are addressed to Clark Kent as the speaker comes to terms with the realization that he doesn't have the power to save her after all. And what do today's women have instead of superheroes? Jesse Helms; fathers who "burned us all." Though it is based more or less in traditional Christianity, the poetry also is concerned with how spirituality can be personal. Low key and poignant, poem after poem takes the form of a conversation, whether woman to her dead parents, Lucifer to God, or poet to reader.— Publishers Weekly

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the terrible stories

By Lucille Clifton

In a long career, Clifton has earned that rare combination of critical acclaim (including two Pulitzer Prize nominations) and a wide popular audience. Heir to Langston Hughes's deceptively ordinary voice, Clifton crafts brief lines and accessible metaphors into a profound and often humorous commentary on the rich survival skills of women, family love and contemporary American “particularly African American” life. Her cogent 10th collection charts a treacherous terrain of personal and historic tragedy. She confronts breast cancer with an impressive delicacy, as in "scar": "I will call you/ ribbon of hunger/ and desire/ empty pocket flap/ edge of before and after.// and you/ what will you call me?" A poetic sequence called "A Term in Memphis" penetrates Southern history, allowing the revelations of honest anger to operate as antidote “not comfort” for bigotry. Often drawn to religious themes, Clifton ambitiously explores contradictions of the Bible's King David, a poet and a soldier who "stands in the tents of history/ bloody skull in one hand, harp in the other. . . ."

With her sustaining ability to spin pain into beauty, Clifton redeems the human spirit from its dark moments. She is among our most trustworthy and gifted poets.—Publishers Weekly

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Blessing the Boats

New and Selected Poems 1988-2000

By Lucille Clifton

Clifton's poems owe a great deal to oral tradition. Her work is wonderfully musical and benefits greatly from being read aloud: "It is hard to remain human on a day/ when birds perch weeping/ in the trees and the squirrel eyes/ do not look away but the dog ones do/ in pity." Her keen sense of rhythm, of the sound, tone, and texture of words, is delightful, a rare find in this day and age. The language is crystal clear and deceptively accessible. The poems are personal, but the distant thunder of history rumbles behind every line. As she says on seeing a photograph: "is it the cut glass/ of their eyes/ looking up toward/ the new gnarled branch/ of the black man/ hanging from a tree?" Clifton's work hearkens back to the days of the Black Arts Movement and sheds light on the new black aesthetic. These are economical slices of ordinary life, celebrations, if you will, of African American existence. With simple language and common sense, she writes of grace, character, and race by way of the personal and familiar. Clifton's voice, her unique vision and wisdom, make this book essential for any serious poetry collection.—Library Journal

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Nia: Haiku, Sonnets, Sun Songs   /  Terry Gross Interviews Natasha Trethewey

*   *   *   *   *'s 25 Best Selling Books



#1 - Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark
#2 - Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree
#3 - Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane
#4 - Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper
#5 - Stackin' Paper 2 Genesis' Payback by Joy King
#6 - Thug Lovin' (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark
#7 - When I Get Where I'm Going by Cheryl Robinson
#8 - Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby
#9 - The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 - Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 - Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 - Don't Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 - For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 - For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 - Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 - The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 - Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 - Purple Panties: An Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 - Stackin' Paper by Joy King

#20 - Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 - The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 - Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 - Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 - I Dreamt I Was in Heaven - The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter


#1 - Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable
#2 - Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans
#3 - Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane
#4 - Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper
#5 - Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You're Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant
#6 - Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey
#7 - The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight
#8 - The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing
#9 - The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 - John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 - Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 -The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 - The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 - The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 - Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can't Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 - Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 - Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 - A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 - John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 - Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 - Age Ain't Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 - 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino
#23 - Chicken Soup for the Prisoner's Soul by Tom Lagana
#24 - 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 - Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

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Black Americans in Congress, 1870-2007

By Matthew Wasniewski

Black Americans in Congress, 1870–2007 beautifully prepared volume—is a comprehensive history of the more than 120 African Americans who have served in the United States Congress. Written for a general audience, this book contains a profile of each African-American Member, including notables such as Hiram Revels, Joseph Rainey, Oscar De Priest, Adam Clayton Powell, Shirley Chisholm, Gus Hawkins, and Barbara Jordan. Individual profiles are introduced by contextual essays that explain major events in congressional and U.S. history. Part I provides four chronologically organized chapters under the heading "Former Black Members of Congress." Each chapter provides a lengthy biographical sketch of the members who served during the period addressed, along with a narrative historical account of the era and tables of information about the Congress during that time. Part II provides similar information about current African-American members. There are 10 appendixes providing tabular information of a variety of sorts about the service of Black members, including such things as a summary list, service on committees and in party leadership posts, familial connections, and so forth.

The entire volume is 803 large folio pages in length and there are many illustrations. The book should be part of every library and research collection, and congressional scholars may well wish to obtain it for their personal libraries.Pictures—including rarely seen historical images—of each African American who has served in Congress—Bibliographies and references to manuscript collections for each Member—Statistical graphs and charts

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Faces At The Bottom of the Well: The Permanence of Racism

By Derrick Bell

In nine grim metaphorical sketches, Bell, the black former Harvard law professor who made headlines recently for his one-man protest against the school's hiring policies, hammers home his controversial theme that white racism is a permanent, indestructible component of our society. Bell's fantasies are often dire and apocalyptic: a new Atlantis rises from the ocean depths, sparking a mass emigration of blacks; white resistance to affirmative action softens following an explosion that kills Harvard's president and all of the school's black professors; intergalactic space invaders promise the U.S. President that they will clean up the environment and deliver tons of gold, but in exchange, the bartering aliens take all African Americans back to their planet. Other pieces deal with black-white romance, a taxi ride through Harlem and job discrimination. Civil rights lawyer Geneva Crenshaw, the heroine of Bell's And We Are Not Saved (1987), is back in some of these ominous allegories, which speak from the depths of anger and despair. Bell now teaches at New York University Law School.Publishers Weekly

  Derrick Bell Law Rights Advocate  Dies at 80

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The Looting of America: How Wall Street's Game of Fantasy Finance

Destroyed Our Jobs, Pensions, and Prosperity—and What We Can Do About It

By Les Leopold

How could the best and brightest (and most highly paid) in finance crash the global economy and then get us to bail them out as well? What caused this mess in the first place? Housing? Greed? Dumb politicians? What can Main Street do about it? In The Looting of America, Leopold debunks the prevailing media myths that blame low-income home buyers who got in over their heads, people who ran up too much credit-card debt, and government interference with free markets. Instead, readers will discover how Wall Street undermined itself and the rest of the economy by playing and losing at a highly lucrative and dangerous game of fantasy finance. He also asks some tough questions:  Why did Americans let the gap between workers' wages and executive compensation grow so large? Why did we fail to realize that the excess money in those executives' pockets was fueling casino-style investment schemes? Why did we buy the notion that too-good-to-be-true financial products that no one could even understand would somehow form the backbone of America's new, postindustrial economy?

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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