Contemporary Black American Poets and Dramatists

By Harold Bloom | Go to book overview
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Clarence Major

b. 1936

CLARENCE MAJOR was bom in Atlanta, Georgia, on December 31, 1936. After his parents' divorce he moved to Chicago with his mother, although retaining connections with the South by frequent visits with his father and other relatives. Major began writing at the age of twelve, and continued to experiment in both fiction and poetry throughout high school while reading voraciously in American, English, and foreign literature. He developed a passion for the visual arts and in 1953 studied briefly at the Art Institute of Chicago, but he felt he lacked technical skill and abandoned his art studies. At this time he published a small pamphlet of poetry, The Fires That Burn in Heaven ( 1954).

In 1955 Major joined the air force, concurrently studying at the Armed Forces Institute. After his discharge in 1957 he worked in a steel factory in Omaha.During this same period he also began editing and publishing the Coercion Review, launching his fruitful literary career. In 1966, after issuing two mimeographed volumes of poetry, he moved to New York and became associated with the Harlem Education Program at the New Lincoln School. Major has subsequently been a lecturer at Sarah Lawrence College ( 1972-75) and a professor of English at Howard University ( 1974-76) and, since 1977, the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Although he has continued to write poetry, Major is best known for his seven novels. The first, All-Night Visitors ( 1969), was published by the Olympia Press and was extensively edited so as to emphasize the sex scenes and downplay the portrayal of character. Major's next novel, NO ( 1973), is the first to introduce his characteristic postmodernist or "experimental" techniques, including rapid shifts of point of view, authorial interruptions of the narrative, and unusual typographical devices. These techniques are particularly evident in Reflex and Bone Structure ( 1975), which won wide acclaim from critics and reviewers, and Emergency Exit ( 1979). Major's more recent novels are My Amputations ( 1986; winner of the Western States Book Award for fiction), Such Was the Season ( 1987), and Painted Turtle: Woman with Guitar ( 1988

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