Waiting for Sweet Betty by Clarence Major

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"I find myself writing poems about things I can’t paint," writes Clarence Major who, for 40 years, has been viewed by critics as a "polymorphous writer who has been iconoclast, black esthetician, modernist, surrealist, postmodernist, and deconstructionist" (World Literature Today).

In Waiting for Sweet Betty, Major watches the world with careful longing to capture the exchanges and conflicts between person and place. Just as a painter juxtaposes colors and shapes, Major does the same with words, often writing as an outsider in foreign places. He shifts perspective away from the self, allowing words to play off one another subtly—with puns, inverted/subverted cliches, and sweet bop soundings—so that his vision might become anyone’s. His subtle, conversational style, is at once humble, playful, humorous, and studied, and his stories can be seen as well as heard:

I ride backwards to see what I’m missing.

Big pines and big skies ride up and down and around,
Up and down and around then for a straight stretch.

A white pickup shooting along a white highway east with us.

Note I’m trying to call home but cannot.

Sky and brush and pine and salt-earth curving sharply, tilting away

—from "Train Window Going and Coming"

"Clarence Major is a master of everyday language and textual fine-tuning, showing an indebtedness to the Harlem Renaissance, to the Objectivists, and to Black Mountaineers."—Publishers Weekly

Clarence Major was a finalist for the National Book Award in Poetry for Configurations: New and Selected Poems (Copper Canyon). He is the author of 10 books of poetry, nine novels, a short story collection, and several books of nonfiction. He is the subject of two recent books: Clarence Major and His Art (UNC Press) and Conversations with Clarence Major (Mississippi). Major teaches American literature at the University of California at Davis.


About Clarence Major

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Artist and writer Clarence Major grew up in Chicago and later received his Ph.D. from the Union Institute in Ohio. He has been a judge for the National Book Awards and was twice named to the panel of the National Endowment of the Arts. Major has written eight novels including "Such Was The Season" and "Painted Turtle," which received citations from the New York Times Book Review as Summer Reading and Notable Book of the Year, and "My Amputations," which received the Western States Book Award. Major published "Juba Jive: A Dictionary of African American Slang," as well as nine other books of poetry that won a National Council of the Arts Award and two Pushcart Prizes.
Published October 1, 2002 by Copper Canyon Press. 120 pages
Genres: Political & Social Sciences, Literature & Fiction. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for Waiting for Sweet Betty

Publishers Weekly

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to the lovely title poem of the book, which skillfully combines shades of Beckett's Waiting for Godot with the subtle nostalgia of waiting to find place, a home, identity, or the mysterious and undefined Sweet Betty herself: "I wait for plum rock to turn a darker purple./I wait for the unmistaka...

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