Sunday, February 14, 2010

Near encounters with Lucille Clifton, RIP

Lucille Clifton has died, bringing an end to a powerful, funny, endearing, enduring poetic voice.

I never had the chance to meet her, but came close.

She was born in western New York State, as was I, growing up in the deep cold of the Buffalo region.

She graduated from Fredonia State University, where my great-uncle designed some of the classroom buildings.

And in the 1990s, when I was one of the editors of Kestrel and a director of the Kestrel Literary Conference, we looked forward to her participation as one of the keynote speakers - but illness kept her away. She was gracious and even apologetic in her cancellation, and we all grieved the opportunity that passed.

I wish I'd gotten to know this grand woman. In the first years of this century, she won the National Book Award for "Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems, 1988-2000," and was the first African-American woman to be awarded the Ruth Lilly Prize for lifetime achievement by the Poetry Foundation.

She had many more words to write, ones we needed to hear.

We'll miss her.

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