Clifton taught at the College from 1989-2007. She served as St. Mary’s Distinguished Scholar of Humanities and as the Hilda C. Landers Endowed Chair in the Liberal Arts. During her time at the College, she inspired many students and faculty members with her quiet friendly nature and inspiring works.
“We all knew Lucille as a dedicated teacher and as a beloved presence at the College. What’s not so well known, I think, is how shy she was. For many years my office was next door to hers, and when she wasn’t meeting with students, she played Solitaire on her computer. For me, that image sums up Lucille as a colleague: quiet and frequently alone, but always available,” said Reeves and English Professor Jeff Hammond.
As an internationally acclaimed poet, Clifton wrote several collections of poetry and won several awards. In 1969 Clifton’s first collection of poems, Good Times, was published and acclaimed by the New York Times, as one of the best books of the year. Clifton’s collection Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems 1988-2000 won the National Book Award; The Terrible Stories (1995) was nominated for the National Book Award; Good Woman: Poems and a Memoir 1969-1980 (1987) and Two-Headed Woman (1980) where both Pulitzer Prize nominees and the latter was a recipient of the University of Massachusetts Press Juniper Prize.
Clifton was also the recipient of an Emmy Award form the American Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, a Lannan Literary Award, two Fellowships from the National Endowments for Arts, the Shelley Memorial Award, the YM-YWHA Poetry Center Discovery Award, the 2007 Ruth Lilly Prize, and in elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 1999.
Besides writing poetry, Clifton wrote several children’s books and a memoir during her career. She also taught for most of her life while continuing her writing. Clifton’s poetry was known for having possessing her distinct voice as a mother and an African American woman and while many remember her poems as beautiful works that changed many lives, they also remember her as a wonderful woman full of life.
“What I remember most about Lucille is her laugh—how you could hear it even down the hall, a laugh from the belly’s bottom, one that shook smiles from all who heard it. Lucille knew joy, understood how vital joy is to everyday living. And it’s her moments of joy, both quiet and full of loud noise, that continue to shake me through the words of her poems,” said English professor Jennifer Cognard-Black.
Michael Glaser, Professor Emeritus of St. Mary’s, a former poet laureate of Maryland and friend of Clifton’s, praised Clifton as a wonderful poet and human being who would be missed by all that knew her.
“Those of us who were fortunate enough to know her have been blessed that the paths of our lives have intersected and been nourished by the path of Lucille’s life,” he said. “We are sustained by the gifts we have received and the gifts we have given, and we take comfort in the fact that her wisdom, her heart, her humor, and her love live on in the legacies that are stored in our memories and in her poetry. Even in our aching, we glow with the light that was Lucille.”
A public memorial for Lucille Clifton will be held in Montgomery Hall 125 on April 10, at 7:30 p.m.