The Art and Life of Clarence Major

Keith E. Byerman

An uncompromising assessment of an uncompromisingly creative writer and artist


"This carefully researched bio-critical study not only provides a compelling view of Clarence Major's life and multifaceted career but also offers signal insights into the life and work of other writers of African American descent whose artistic production has not been limited, and should not be read as limited, by 'race.'"
—Joe Weixlmann, editor emeritus of the African American Review

"This groundbreaking study provides fresh insight into Major's fiction, poetry, and painting. By drawing on previously unknown archival material and interviews, Byerman develops a rich account of Major's life and sheds new light on the creative practice of an experimentalist who is quite possibly the most prolific African American writer of his generation."
—Linda Furgerson Selzer, author of Charles Johnson in Context

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Clarence Major is an award-winning painter, fiction writer, and poet—as well as an essayist, editor, anthologist, lexicographer, and memoirist. He has been part of twenty-eight group exhibitions, has had fifteen one-man shows, and has published fourteen collections of poetry and nine works of fiction. The Art and Life of Clarence Major is the first critical biography of this innovative African American writer and visual artist. Given the full cooperation of his subject, Keith E. Byerman traces Major’s life and career from his complex family history in Georgia through his encounters with important literary and artistic figures in Chicago and New York to his present status as a respected writer, artist, teacher, and scholar living in California.

In his introduction, Byerman asks, “How does a black man who does not take race as his principal identity, an artist who deliberately defies mainstream rules, a social and cultural critic who wants to be admired by the world he attacks, and a creator who refuses to commit to one expressive form make his way in the world?” Tasking himself with opening up the multiple layers of problems and solutions in both the work and the life to consider the successes and the failures, Byerman reveals Major as one who has devoted himself to a life of experimental art that has challenged both literary and painterly practice and the conventional understanding of the nature of African American art. Major’s refusal to follow the rules has challenged readers and critics, but through it all, he has continued to produce quality work as a painter, poet, and novelist. His is the life of someone totally devoted to his creative work, one who has put his artistic vision ahead of fame, wealth, and sometimes even family.

A Sarah Mills Hodge Fund Publication

Page count: 336 pp.
21 b&w images, 17 color plates
Trim size: 6 x 9


List price: $34.95

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Keith E. Byerman is a professor of English at Indiana State University. He is the author or editor of six previous books including Remembering the Past in Contemporary African American Fiction.