This sample Lucille Clifton Essay is published for informational purposes only. Free essays and research papers, are not written by our writers, they are contributed by users, so we are not responsible for the content of this free sample paper. If you want to buy a high quality essay at affordable price please use our custom essay writing service.
Highly praised for her strong affirmation of African American culture, Lucille Clifton is a prolific poet whose work conveys concern for the welfare of African American families and youth. Through her work, Clifton evokes a sense of strength and celebration in the face of adversity. She is noted for writing in a simple, unadorned style using free verse and imagery drawn from the ordinary details of life.
Works in Biographical and Historical Context
Inspired by Family Love of Literature, Heroic Forebears
Clifton was born in Depew, New York, on June 27, 1936, to Samuel and Thelma Moore Sayles. Her father worked in the steel mills, and her mother worked in a laundry. Although neither of her parents were educated beyond elementary school, they shared their appreciation for literature with their family. According to Clifton, her mother wrote poems, which she read to her four children. Her father was a storyteller, sharing the oral history of his ancestors, particularly his grandmother, Caroline, who was abducted from her home in the Dahomey Republic of West Africa and brought to New Orleans, Louisiana, as a slave. In Clifton’s prose auto-biography, Generations: A Memoir (1976), “Ca’line” appears as a woman of almost mythical endurance and courage, reflecting Clifton’s characteristic portrayal of women as both strong and deeply nurturing.
In 1953 Clifton attended Howard University in Washington, DC, where she associated with writers LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka), A. B. Spellman, Owen Dodson, and Sterling Brown. After two years, she left Howard and attended Fredonia State Teachers College, where she often gave readings, performed in plays, and developed her voice as a writer, using sparse punctuation and a lyricism reflecting spoken words. When poet Robert Hayden entered her poems for the YW-YMHA Poetry Center Discovery Award in 1969, Clifton not only won the award, she also saw the publication of her first poetry collection, Good Times: Poems (1969). These early poems reflect the hardships her family endured and the successes they achieved while living in the inner city. Throughout the volume, Clifton seems to make conscious efforts to combat the negative images associated with inner city life by reminding readers that whatever the strictly socioeconomic characteristics of the community, home is what it is called by those who live there.
Clifton’s early success came at the height of the civil rights movement in America, a time when both black and white activists worked together to push for social justice for African Americans. The civil rights movement had been dealt several blows in the mid- to late-1960s, and the nation was in turmoil—both over the question of equal rights for blacks and dissatisfaction with the U.S. government’s conduct of the Vietnam War. The controversial African American civil rights leader Malcolm X, known for his forceful critiques of the U.S. government and white society, was assassinated in 1965. Martin Luther King Jr., a civil rights leader known for his moving oratory and non violent demonstrations, was assassinated in 1968. Presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, vocal in his opposition to the Vietnam War and staunch in his support of the civil rights movement, was assassinated just weeks after King. Despite so many reasons for sadness and anger in the black community, Clifton’s work remained positive and hopeful.
Celebrations of Ancestry and Culture
Good Times: Poems was cited by the New York Times as one of the best books of the year, subsequently launching Clifton’s career. Though she advanced her career as a professor, teaching literature and creative writing at several universities, Clifton has also continued her career as a productive poet. Her second volume of poems, Good News about the Earth (1972), was published, reflecting many political ideas of the 1960s and 1970s. The collection suggests that ”we as [American] people have never hated one another.” Several poems are dedicated to African American leaders, such as Malcolm X, Eldridge Cleaver, and Angela Davis.
In Clifton’s third collection, An Ordinary Woman (1974), she abandons many of the broad racial issues examined in the two preceding books. Instead, the poems take as their theme a historical, social, and spiritual assessment of the current generation in the genealogical line of Caroline Donald, the poet’s great-great-grandmother. Born in Africa in 1822, Caroline was a remarkable woman who, along with her mother, sister, and brother, had been kidnapped from her home in Dahomey, West Africa. Anything but ordinary, the Dahomean woman endured. Caroline not only survived this difficult and harsh introduction to America but managed to instill in members of her family, and the local black community at large, important and lasting principles of faith, dignity, intelligence, and integrity. Clifton shares the full story of Caroline and her descendants in her 1976 memoir, Generations.
Family, Faith, and Hope
Clifton often explores her African American experience by examining familial relationships and religious themes. In Two-Headed Woman (1980), Clifton provides another tribute to the memory of her mother and includes a rather complicated poem in which she explores her feelings toward her father. As with many of her poems, Clifton provides an optimistic view, a testament of the strong faith she has in the power of human will.
In addition to several collections of poetry and an autobiography, Clifton has published more than twenty award-winning books for young readers. The children’s books emphasize the importance of staying connected with the past and are characterized by a positive view of the African American culture. Clifton credits her six children with inspiring many of her stories. One of her most durable characters is little Everett Anderson, a young black boy whose realistic life experiences give the character vitality. In order to survive, for example, Everett must understand and accept the death of his father (Everett Anderson’s Goodbye, 1983) and the remarriage of his mother (Everett Anderson’s 1-2-3, published in 1977).
Works in Literary Context
A Simple Style
Clifton’s poems are known for their straightforward style that often echoes black speech and music. She writes in free verse, often using short lines, slant rhyme, and little punctuation. The simple words evoke strong imagery and big ideas. Clifton has said, ”I am interested in trying to render big ideas in a simple way.”
A Political Voice?
Some critics associate Clifton with the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and 1970s, which promoted African American arts as tools to overcome racial oppression. Many of Clifton’s poems criticize racist attitudes. Clifton’s poetry, as well as her young-adult literature, is recognized for its cultivation of black identity and pride through awareness of black history. Yet, while she is concerned with the importance of racial memory and history, most of her themes are traditional. She celebrates the ordinary life of the African American family. She celebrates the importance of communities and every day heroes, people who manage to lead lives worthy of emulation despite the most trying conditions.
Works in Critical Context
Because of the deceptive simplicity of Clifton’s work—a function of its conciseness, compression, and reliance on an oral tradition—her poetry is undervalued. When writ ten about, her poems are described and praised but rarely given a reading that grants their depth and complexity. Others critics have a different opinion. Writing in Mari Evans’s Black Women Writers (1950-1980): A Critical Evaluation, Haki Madhubuti states: ”She is a writer of complexity, and she makes her readers work and think. . . . At the base of her work is concern for the Black family, especially the destruction of its youth.”
Few Words; Big Voice
Clifton’s poems are structurally tight, using few words to relay a powerful song. In a Christian Century review of Clifton’s work, Peggy Rosenthal noted, ”The first thing that strikes us about Lucille Clifton’s poetry is what is missing: capitalization, punctuation, long and plentiful lines. We see a poetry so pared down that its spaces take on substance, become a shaping presence as much as the words themselves.”
Good Times: Poems
Clifton’s first collection of poetry was a literary success praised by critics. The poems paint both an optimistic and tragic portrait of life in the inner city. Ronald Baughman in a Dictionary of Literary Biography notes that ”these poems attain power not only through their subject matter but also through … the precise evocative images that give substance to her rhetorical statements and a frequent duality of vision that lends complexity to her portraits of place and character.” He calls the title of the collection “ironic,” claiming that ”Although the urban ghetto can … create figures who are tough enough to survive and triumph, the overriding concern of this book is with the horrors of the location.” Madhubuti thinks that Clifton’s first book of poetry ”cannot be looked upon as simply a ‘first effort.’ The work is unusually compacted and memory-evoking.” Johari Amini adds in Black World, ”The poetry is filled with the sensations of coming up black with the kind of love that keeps you from dying in desperation.”
- Evans, Mari, ed. Black Women Writers 1950-1980: A Critical Evaluation. New York: Doubleday-Anchor, 1984.
- Madhubuti, Haki. ”Lucille Clifton: Warm Water, Greased Legs, and Dangerous Poetry.” Black Women Writers (1950-1980); A Critical Evaluation (1984): 150-160.
- Hank, Lazer. ”Blackness Blessed: The Writings of Lucille Clifton.” Southern Review 25, no. 3 (July 1989): 760-770.
- Johnson, Joyce. The Theme of Celebration in Lucille Clifton’s Poetry.” Pacific Coast Philology 18 (November 1983): 70-76.
- Ostriker, Alicia. ”Kine and Kin: The Poetry of Lucille Clifton.” American Poetry Review 22.6 (November-December 1993): 41-48.
- Poetry Breaks: Lucille Clifton. Retrieved September 2007, from http://openvault.wgbh.org/ntw/MLA000296/index.html
Free essays are not written to satisfy your specific instructions. You can use our professional writing services to order a custom essay, research paper, or term paper on any topic and get your high quality paper at affordable price. UniversalEssays is the best choice for those who seek help in essay writing or research paper writing in any field of study.