When it comes to literary awards, it's a lot easier to talk about what Lucille Clifton hasn't won. She's got a resume that could go on for days – and it includes such honors as the National Book Award, the Ruth Lilly Lifetime Achievement Award, the Coretta Scott King Award, and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Academy of American Poets. Her work was short-listed for the Pulitzer Prize – twice.
If all that hardware doesn't knock your socks off, then we're betting that Clifton's poetry will. She explores the female body, the conditions of womanhood, and her life as an African-American woman in verse so stripped-down and clear that it sounds like a voice speaking inside your head. Clifton tackles some pretty tough topics, and she does so with characteristic grace.
Perhaps that's why she's been one of the centers of the American poetry scene since her first book came out in 1969. Writing in the decades immediately following the Civil Rights Movement and feminist movements, Clifton paid attention to the cultural and political landscapes of her times. Her poems engage with some pretty tough topics (like, say, female body image), but they do so in joyful and even playful ways.
When Clifton died in February of 2010, she had penned thirteen books of poetry and one collection of essays. Not shabby work. More importantly, she'd managed to capture the voice of a certain kind of American woman: a strong, bold woman who isn't afraid to say and be exactly what she wants.
If you've ever looked in the mirror and frowned or gazed longingly at a pair of jeans that were just one size too small or refused to eat lunch so that you could go out for dinner, then this is the poem for you. You could think of this poem as a reality check: it's actively dismissing the twenty-seven million kinds of crazy and self-destructive attitudes that people have regarding their own bodies.
Our speaker LOVES her hips. Just in case you think we're telling you something which is just too crazy to be true, we're going to repeat ourselves: our speaker LOVES her hips. And we're guessing that she's just as crazy about every bit of her body, from her toenails to her eyebrows. Sound strange? Maybe that's because it's just not all that common for a woman to openly discuss her body – much less talk about it in a loving and caring way.
Reading this poem, we can't help but get caught up in her infectious love of her own body. As it turns out, it feels pretty good to be comfortable in the skin you're in. So stop treating your body as if it were hostile territory that needed to be run and dieted and prodded into submission. Read this poem instead. We guarantee that you'll be happy you did.
Clifton on Poets.org
Poets.org is well known for its short, sweet biographies – and it's got good links to other Clifton poems!
Critical Takes on Clifton
The Modern American Poetry site at the University of Illinois offers several critics' views of Clifton's works. It's worth a read!
Yet Another Go-to Site
The Poetry Foundation is one of our first stops when we're researching poets. Check out this entry on Clifton to see why.
Free to Be You & Me
If the self-lovin' you find in Clifton's poetry isn't enough for you, check out this staple of children's videos (from the '70s, of course)! In case you were wondering, Clifton was the head writer.
Clifton Reads "homage to my hips"
Think this poem is great on the page? Wait till you hear Clifton read it aloud!
We know you're starting to love her…
…which is why we're hooking you up with even more of Clifton's readings. Check it out.
"homage to my hips"
An audio recording of Clifton reading her poem.
"Everything is Connected"
Listen to Clifton talk about her poetry and her life on NPR's Morning Edition.
"Trailblazing Poet Lucille Clifton Dead At 73"
NPR remembers Clifton after her death in February of 2010.
A photo of Lucille Clifton.
Clifton's Collected Works
It's Poetry! It's an autobiography! It's everything rolled into one! Here's a collection of Clifton's works up until 1980, including her memoirs.
Blessing the Boats
Want to figure out why Clifton won the National Book Award? Here's your chance….