Generations: A Memoir

NYRB Classics. Nov. 2021. 104p. ISBN 9781681375878. pap. $14.95. MEMOIR
In this brief memoir, out of print since 1976, Clifton (1936–2010) distills centuries of family history with the same potent, easy eloquence that has placed her among the first rank of American poets. On the occasion of her father Samuel Sayles’s burial, Clifton channels his stories of his own great-grandmother Caroline, kidnapped from the West African kingdom of Dahomey and sold into slavery as a child, and Caroline’s daughter Lucy who became, in a clause that speaks volumes, the “First Black woman legally hanged in the state of Virginia,” for gunning down the white father of her son Gene, born with a withered arm. Clifton then considers her own parents with a voice beautifully poised between her commanding father’s loquacious swagger and the egoless embrace of her selfless loving mother, who burned all of her own poems.
VERDICT Clifton is one of our great truth-tellers, and this work stands among her best. Elegiac and celebratory, unfussy and profound, full of pain and healing and thanks for the ties that hold, this slim memorial contains multitudes, and every word of it is true, “even the lies.”
Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing