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Tue, 09.08.1936

Clarence Major, Novelist, and Poet born

Clarence Major

*The birth of Clarence Major in 1936 is celebrated on this date. He is a Black Poet, novelist, and painter.

From Atlanta, Georgia, he grew up in Chicago, where he began writing, painting, and drawing as a teenager. Major said he also spent six years researching the post-war period in the Midwest.  He also often listened to his blues collection, thinking about how to put the blues in literary terms. Major served as a record specialist in the United States Air Force from 1955–1957. He received a B.S. from the State University of New York and a Ph.D. from the Union for Experimenting Colleges.

A noted painter, photographer, poet, novelist, editor, essayist, and scriptwriter, Major is the author of eight novels and nine books of poetry. His work has been recognized throughout America and Europe with such awards as the Pushcart Prize 1976. Among numerous other honors, Major received the Western States Book Award for fiction in 1986 for My Amputations. He received a Le Prix Maurice Edgar Coindreau nomination 1982 for the French translation of Reflex and Bone Structure.  Major's works have been linked with Ezra Pound, Robert Creeley, June Jordan, Michael S. Harper, and Ishmael Reed and are considered at the forefront of experimental poetry and prose.

His more innovative works, like My Amputations, mix the rhythms of American slang with the languages of history, science, mythology, and the occult, alchemy which expresses the violence which he believes is an integral part of life for Southern blacks and which shapes their lives and attitudes. Major's affinity for language also emerges in his work on The Dictionary of Afro-American Slang (1970) and its updated and expanded version Juba to Jive: A Dictionary of African American Slang (1994). His story collection, Fun & Games (1990), was nominated for a Los Angeles Times Book Critics Award.

He says the book did not stem directly from his two dictionaries of black slang, but the evidence that he's been studying the black language for 25 years appears on every page. Major also is a painter, and a reproduction of one of his works appears on the cover of "Dirty Bird Blues." He earned his Ph.D. through the Union Institute in Ohio. The experimental program let him take classes and teach at various colleges and universities, from Howard to Sarah Lawrence. He spent 12 years at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and moved to Davis in 1989.

He teaches African American literature and creative writing and paints in his free time. He is the author of nine collections of poetry, nine novels, a short story collection, several books of nonfiction, and three anthologies. Many of his books received extensive critical attention through periodical reviews and critical essays in journals. He is the subject of Clarence Major and His Art: Portraits of an African American Post Modernist, edited by Bernard Bell, University of North Carolina Press, (2001) and Conversations with Clarence Major, edited by Nancy Bunge, University Press of Mississippi (2001).

Major has been the recipient of many honors, including a National Council on the Arts Award, a Western States Book Award, a Fulbright Fellowship, a New York Times Book Review Notable Book of the Year citation, a Los Angeles Times Book Critics Award nomination, and a Prix Maurice Edgar Cointreau Award nomination (in France for the translation of his novel Reflex and Bone Structure). Major was a 1999 National Book Awards finalist for his poetry collection Configurations. He has written for The New York Times, The New York Times Book Review, The Los Angeles Times Book Review, The Washington Post Book World, The San Francisco Chronicle Book Review, Ploughshares, The Kenyon Review, The American Review, American Vision, and more than a hundred other periodicals and contributed to dozens of anthologies published in the USA, Europe, South America, and Africa.

He has served as a judge for The National Book Awards, the PEN-Faulkner Awards, and twice for the National Endowment for the Arts Awards. He has traveled extensively and lived in various parts of the United States and in France and Italy for extended periods. He has been a guest speaker in hundreds of universities and cultural centers throughout the United States, England, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Yugoslavia, Algeria, Liberia, and Ghana. Major has taught at Sarah Lawrence College, New York University, Temple University, and other universities and colleges. He currently teaches twentieth-century American literature at the University of California, Davis. He won the "2015 LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD IN THE FINE ARTS," presented by The Congressional Black Caucus Foundation.

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