Why Poet Lucille Clifton Is My Matron Saint | Sojourners

Why Poet Lucille Clifton Is My Matron Saint

My research led me to her personal writings; her work has become an oasis.
A black-and-white photo of poet Lucille Clifton, sitting in a chair wearing black robes and several layered necklaces.
Lucille Clifton, 1995. / Afro American Newspapers / Gado / Getty Images

I was wrapping up some research in the Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library at Emory University when I requested a box of Lucille Clifton’s personal writings. I had not come to study Clifton. I was researching anti-lynching activism in Georgia, specifically a 1936 lynching photograph. But by the end of the week, I began turning to Clifton’s personal writing as an oasis. “Resolve to try to fear less and trust more and be healthy,” she wrote in her red Writer’s Digest Daily Diary on December 31, 1979. Clifton was a published children’s book author, memoirist, activist, and the poet laureate of Maryland when she wrote those words. She was also 43, the same age I was that September day. Her body of work, which includes Two-Headed Woman and Blessing the Boats, crossed oceans, told family stories, and revealed both the sting of injustice and the heart of what’s holy.

The day after Clifton resolved to “fear less and trust more and be healthy,” she wrote in her journal that she returned to a house with “no central heat; bad plumbing; and foreclosure.” A few weeks later, the house was auctioned off to the highest bidder. She sat down and wrote something anyway.

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