LUCILLE CLIFTON was born Thelma Lucille Sayles on June 27,1936, in Depew, New York. She was named Lucille after her great-grandmother, who was the first black woman legally hanged in Virginia (she shot and killed the white man who impregnated her, but her mother's standing in the community was such that she was not lynched). Lucille Sayles's parents were estranged and her family quite poor; nevertheless, she grew up in a nurturing and supportive environment filled with stories of her family's history, all of which she missed a great deal when she attended Howard University in Washington, D.C., from 1953 to 1955. After two years at Howard, she attended Fredonia State Teachers College (now State University of New York College at Fredonia) for a year. She married educator, writer, and artist Fred James Clifton in 1958; they would eventually have six children. Her family figures prominently in Clifton's work.
Clifton's first job was as a claims clerk for the New York State Division of Employment in Buffalo, New York. After working there for two years (1958-60), she gave up her career to stay home and raise her children. She took to writing only in her early thirties, by which time she also resumed employment, this time in the academic community: she was a literature assistant for the Central Atlantic Regional Educational Laboratory from 1969 to 1971 and poet in residence at Coppin State College in Baltimore from 1971 to 1974.
Clifton's first book of poetry, Good Times, was published in 1969 to critical acclaim, being cited as one of the year's ten best books by the New York Times. This volume was followed by several other books of poetry: Good News about the Earth: New Poems (1972), An Ordinary Woman (1974), Two-Headed Woman (1980), the retrospective Good Woman: Poems and a Memoir 1969-1980 (1987), Next: New Poems (1987), and Quilting: Poems 1987-1990 (1991). Clifton's poems discuss racial issues, celebrate her blackness and her womanhood, and explore her spiritual experiences. Clifton