Clarence Major is an innovative African American postmodern artist whose work elicits favorable comparisons with Ishmael Reed and Charles Johnson. Notable for its fascination with language and the limits of fictional representation, his writing flouts the conventions of traditional narrative. Although he is known primarily as an experimental novelist, Major’s indefatigable production as a poet, essayist, editor, lexicographer, and painter testifies to his versatility as an artist. In 1970 he received a National Council on the Arts Award, in 1976 a Pushcart Prize, in 1981-1982 a Fulbright Award, and in 1986 the Western States Book Award. Painted Turtle was a New York Times Book Review Notable Book for 1988, and Fun and Games was nominated for the Los Angeles Times Book Critics award in 1990.
Major was born in Atlanta, Georgia, the son of Clarence and Inez (Huff) Major. His parents divorced when he was a child, and he moved with his mother to Chicago, Illinois. Major enjoyed a good relationship with both parents, and he often spent summer vacations with his father’s family in the South. When he was in the fifth grade, he read Raymond Radiguet’s Devil in the Flesh (1923) and became enamored of the writing life. Thereafter he devoured books by Richard Wright, Chester Himes, Jean Toomer, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, and William Faulkner, among others. Major experienced a second artistic awakening in his early teens, when he discovered artistic Impressionism and the works of Vincent van Gogh. In 1954, at the age of seventeen, a scholarship to the Art Institute of Chicago forced him to reevaluate his own artistic career. He was attracted to painting but was not sure that he possessed the requisite skills to succeed as a painter. In 1954 he published his first...
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