Virginia Tech poets traveled to James Madison University to combine forces in “73 Poems for 73 Years: Celebrating the Life of Lucille Clifton.” The “art bus rolled in style” to Harrisonburg, observed Virginia Tech’s internationally acclaimed poet and University Distinguished Professor Nikki Giovanni, who co-produced the tribute in which acclaimed poets from across the country honored each of Clifton’s 73 years with the reading of one of her poems.
The 2007 winner of the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize that honors a poet whose “lifetime accomplishments warrant extraordinary recognition,” Clifton passed away on February 13, 2010. She received the Robert Frost medal for lifetime achievement posthumously from the Poetry Society of America. Clifton’s first poetry collection Good Times was published in 1969, and listed by The New York Times as one of the year's 10 best books. She worked at several prestigious universities, including Columbia, Dartmouth, George Washington, University of California at Santa Cruz, and St. Mary’s College of Maryland, the state in which she also served as Poet Laureate.
Readers from Virginia Tech included English faculty members Gena Chandler, Fred D’Aguiar, Virginia Fowler, Giovanni, Ennis McCrery, Erika Meitner, Aileen Murphy, Lucinda Roy, and Carolyn Rude. Paula Seniors, who was recently selected as the first Virginia Tech South Atlantic Humanities Faculty Fellow, and Director of the University Honors Program Terry Papillon also participated in the reading.
Daniel Wubah, vice president and dean for undergraduate education at Virginia Tech, sponsored the packed bus for the celebratory reading that engaged a crowd of nearly a thousand in Wilson Hall Auditorium.
Giovanni partnered with Joanne Gabbin, executive director of the Furious Flower Poetry Center and professor of English at James Madison, to produce the event. Two of Clifton's daughters read in the program, which also featured music by the Elliott Family String Quartet, Mr. Jefferson's Bones Trombone Ensemble, soloist Treasure Williams and the Madison Singers. A souvenir tribute book was published and proceeds will support the Furious Flower Poetry Center and the Steger Poetry Prize at Virginia Tech.