On Tuesday, September 21, hundreds of people gathered in Harrisonburg, Virginia to celebrate the life of Lucille Clifton. It was one of those experiences that made me remember why I love my life.
The program, organized by Joanne Gabbin and Nikki Giovanni featured 73 writers who each read one Miss Lucille’s poems. (I recited my favorite, “Here Rests.”) The experience was beyond beautiful. Imagine Sonia Sanchez, Mari Evans, Rita Dove, Honoree Fanonne Jeffers, Tony Medina, Kamilah Aisha Moon, Haki Madhubuti, and many many others reading every one of your favorite poems.
One thing that was clear to me as the night went on was the great respect that the younger writers had for our elders. We even called the that, “elders,” and we said it without irony. Everyone in that room loved Lucille Clifton and respected the gift of her art, but also what she had done to make our careers possible.
I have often read about writers who feel they must dethrone their forefathers and mothers. I am happy to say, I don’t know nothing about that. I know whose shoulders I stand on.
For the grand finale, Nikki Giovanni took the stage and brought about one hundred of us with her. Together we recited “Won’t You Celebrate With Me.” It took a while because Nikki called upon many people to give the lines their own interpretation. (Rita Dove sings like an angel, btw.) A ten year old interpreted a verse with a burst of music from his violin. But all together, we called, we responded, we shouted, we intoned, we boomed.
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.”
By the last line, we were all on our feet. “And has failed! Has failed! Has failed!”
(more photos here.)