The late poet Lucille Clifton was very much a Columbia resident. She was locally active with the Howard County Poetry and Literature Society (HoCoPoLitSo), which is hosting its third annual Clifton-themed event, "Telling Our Stories, Michael S. Glaser Celebrates Lucille Clifton."
This free program takes place on Saturday, Nov. 9, from 7:30 to 9 p.m. in Howard Community College's Monteabaro Recital Hall.
"Lucille Clifton was a cornerstone of HoCoPoLitSo," said Pamela Kroll Simonson, managing director of HoCoPoLitSo.
Indeed, Clifton and fellow poet Carolyn Kizer gave readings at the organization's first event in 1974. A National Book Award-winning author who published 11 books of poetry and 20 books for children, Clifton had a national reputation that helped convince many well-known writers to appear at HoCoPoLitSo events over the years. Clifton was a HoCoPoLitSo board member until her death at age 73 in 2010.
Michael S. Glaser is a particularly apt choice to speak at this year's HoCoPoLitSo tribute to her memory, because they were friends with shared professional credentials.
Both Clifton and Glaser served as poet laureate of Maryland. Clifton, who served from 1979 to 1985, was the second woman and the first African American to hold this position. Glaser, 70, served as the state's poet laureate from 2004 to 2009.
And Clifton and Glaser were longtime colleagues on the faculty of St. Mary's College of Maryland, where Glaser is a professor of English emeritus.
Glaser's ongoing devotion to his late friend includes editing two books about her. In 2011, he edited "Come Celebrate with Me," a memorial tribute to Clifton; and in 2012, he was co-editor with Kevin Young of the "Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton 1965- 2010."
Last month, that volume of collected poems was acknowledged with Clifton posthumously being given the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, a black writers-honoring award that is administered by a Prince George's County-based foundation established by Golden and Clyde McElvene.
Glaser, who knew Clifton and her poetry as well as anyone, feels confident that her literary legacy is secure.
"Her poems are enduring gifts and point to why I think of her not so much as one of the very best poets of the 20th century (which she was), but more so as the lead poet of the 21st century," Glaser said. "I feel certain that Lucille Clifton's courage, compassion and straightforward truth telling will be seen as major characteristics of poetry in the 21st century."
As a longtime faculty colleague, Glaser witnessed on a daily basis how Clifton's autobiographical poems and equally open personality affected the entire campus community at their college in southern Maryland.
"She made everyone she met feel cared for: from the workers who cleaned the buildings to the students and faculty and even the college presidents she served," Glaser recalled. "Her door was always open, like her heart. Students flocked to be near her — to listen and learn and be nurtured. She nurtured the rest of us as well, all the while calling on all of us to pay attention, to ask questions, to stay awake.
"As a teacher, Lucille's great wish was that her students could never say, 'Nobody ever told me.' She especially wanted her students to escape the trap of ignorance that enables so many to feel self-righteous about the privilege and blessed lives most of us in the United States have. Through her own courage and sense of duty to being authentic, she helped embolden us all to seek our own authentic paths."
"Telling Our Stories, Michael S. Glaser Celebrates Lucille Clifton" is Saturday, Nov. 9, 7:30- 9 p.m., in Howard Community College's Monteabaro Recital Hall, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway in Columbia. Although the event is free, reservations are requested. Call 443-518-4568 or go to lucillecliftonpoetryseries.eventbrite.com or to http://www.hocopolitso.org
Also at HCC on Nov. 9, Glaser leads a poetry workshop for teachers from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Advance registration is required at poetryworkshopforteachers.eventbrite.com.