NYU Black Renaissance Noire NYU Black Renaissance Noire Vol 17.2: Fall 2017 - Page 90

essay The Early Poetic Blessings of Lucille: By E. Ethelbert Miller — Lucille Clifton I didn’t know who Lucille Clifton was until 1974. Her work didn’t appear in the many anthologies associated with the Black Arts Movement I was reading, such as Black Fire, Black Voices, or the New Black Voices. The emergence of Lucille Clifton coincides with what I define as the feminization of Black literature that took place in the 1970s. Her work became popular as the Women’s Movement moved to centerstage and publications like Ms. and Essence appeared on newsstands. The word feminism entered our nation’s vocabulary, bringing a new form of consciousness. In African American literature, women no longer were marginalized, as they had been in the works of Richard Wright and Ralph Ellison. The Seventies ushered in the careers of Toni Cade Bambara, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Audre Lorde, Ntozake Shange, June Jordan, and many other women. These women owed a lot to such African American women writers as Gwendolyn Brooks, Lorraine Hansberry, and Ann Petry. They would also continue the tradition established by earlier African American women writers such as Nella Larsen, Zora Neale Hurston, Jesse Fauset, and May Miller, whose names are associated with the New Negro Movement or Harlem Renaissance. In 1974 I met poet and publisher Ahmos Zu-Bolton. At the time Zu-Bolton, from DeRidder, Louisiana, was working at a community center in southern Maryland. He was editing Hoo-Doo magazine. I had heard of Hoo-Doo and had actually submitted some of my poems for publication. They were kindly rejected with a note that said,“This is not Hoo-Doo poetry.” I had no idea what Hoo-Doo poetry was. Maybe it was the stars that one day in 1974 directed Ahmos Zu-Bolton to the African American Resource Center at Howard University, where I was employed. Zu-Bolton wore coveralls similar to James Forman’s and people who were Civil Rights workers in the South. As editor of Hoo-Doo, Zu-Bolton knew many writers across the country. He would introduce me to May Miller, Lorenzo Thomas, Ishmael Reed, Ai, Wanda Coleman, and Lucille Clifton. Ahmos Zu-Bolton left his job in Maryland and came to work with me at Howard. This was shortly after he attended the second Ascension poetry reading I had organized that was held June 14, 1974, at a café known as Dingane Den’s on 18th Street in northwest Washington, DC. I started the Ascension Series on April 8, 1974, with the support of my mentor, Dr. Stephen Henderson, who was the director of the Institute for the Arts and Humanities at Howard. The purpose of the series was to provide an outlet for young, emerging poets. The first program was also a way to reduce the divide between campus and community poets. The name Ascension came from John Coltrane’s 1966 album. I felt that the Black Arts Movement was responsible for a “resurrection” of Black poetry and after resurrection would come ascension. Some of the writers who read on my first program included Corrie Haines, Clay Goss, Adesanya Alakoye, and Stephanie Stokes. Ahmos Zu-Bolton helped with the planning of the third Ascension poetry reading. I came up with the idea of having a celebrity guest reader. Zu-Bolton suggested Lucille Clifton. We held the program on December 2, 1974, in the African American Resource Center. I believe this was the first time Clifton had ever read on the campus of Howard University, an in