Celebrated for both his writing and his art, Clarence Major has published sixteen books of poetry, eleven novels, two short story collections, ten nonfiction works, and produced over 150 original paintings. Major is also an educator who has taught creative literature and writing courses at twelve different universities, including the University of California Davis, where he taught for eighteen years until his retirement in 2007.
Born in Atlanta, Georgia, Major studied art and art history at the Art Institute of Chicago on a scholarship while still in high school. His education continued at the State University of New York and the Union Institute and University / Vermont College, where he earned his bachelor's degree and Ph.D., respectively.
In 1969, Major began publishing his writing. His first novel, All-Night Visitors, revolves around a Black Vietnam veteran named Eli Bolton. The story explores his struggles with white society and the trauma he faced during his service. Major’s second published work, the poetry collection Swallow the Lake, was released the following year to much acclaim. Swallow the Lake earned Major both a National Council of the Arts Award and a New York Cultural Foundation Grant. He has given public readings of his poetry at the Guggenheim Museum of Art in New York City, the Folger Theatre in Washington, DC, and at the Poetry International festival held in the Netherlands.
Major made his mark as an educator at multiple institutions. His first instructional experience was teaching in a summer program at the New Lincoln School in Harlem in 1967. While primarily focused in literature and creative writing, he also taught American culture at the University of Nice in France as a Fulbright-Hays scholar. In 2007 he retired from teaching but continued to publish his work. He released his most recent novel, The Lurking Place, in June 2021.
Major received a Pushcart Prize in 1989, a National Book Award Bronze Medal in 1999, the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Award in 2015, and the PEN-Oakland Reginald Lockett Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016, among others. The 2019 edition of The Best American Poetry featured some of his recent work.