Cover image for Necessary distance : essays and criticism
Necessary distance : essays and criticism
Major, Clarence.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
Minneapolis, MN : Coffee House Press ; Saint Paul, MN : Distributor, Consortium Book Sales & Distribution, [2001]

Physical Description:
239 pages : illustrations ; 23 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS3563.A39 N4 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



Bringing together critical essays, articles, and reviews by 1999 National Book Award for Poetry finalist, this landmark collection is an impressive look back--and forward--by one of our most visionary authors. From essays on the craft of writing, to critiques of contemporary and classic African-American authors and their work, to observations on the quirkiness of the writing and publishing life, Necessary Distance is a compendium of the best nonfiction prose by an important figure in contemporary American letters.

This collection is a portrait of the artist's rise to prominence in American letters. "A writer is usually a person who has to learn how to keep his ego--like his virginity--and lose it at the same time. In other words, he becomes a kind of twin of himself. He remains that self-centered infant while transcending him to become the observer of his experience and, by extension, the observer of a wide range of experience within his cultural domain." From his apt observations on culturaldoubleness, to his redefinition of a political poetry that is "organic in its ideas, . . . that in no way compromised its own artistic nature," to his consumate statement on the concept of rhythm in African -American poetry,Necessary Distance is a sweeping tour of new ground in literature and poetics.

Clarence Major is the author of nine novels, nine books of poetry, and many nonfiction works and was a 1999 finalist for the National Book Award in Poetry forConfigurations. Major teaches at the University of California in Davis. He has written for theNew York Times Book Review, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, Essence , and dozens of other periodicals.

Author Notes

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.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

From "A Paris Fantasy Transformed" to "America Placed on Trial" poet Clarence Major, in addition to writing nine books of poems (selected in Configurations) and nine novels, has been steadily producing trenchant literary and cultural criticism. The passing years have yielded Necessary Distance: Essays and Criticism, a collection of reviews, polemics, musings and examinations about American art and life. ( May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Major, one of America's most gifted and versatile writers, continues to engage the reading public with his innovative fiction and poetry. During a career spanning nearly four decades, this accomplished poet and fiction writer (his 1999 Configurations was a finalist for the National Book Award for poetry) has also been a prolific essayist, as shown by this new compilation. Included in this volume are autobiographical pieces, book reviews, and short critical essays, many of which explore the link between African American literature and Eurocentric traditions. In remarks that are lively and enthusiastic, Major discusses such authors as Paul Laurence Dunbar, the first black poet to draw heavily upon African folk models; Wallace Thurman, a precocious early novelist who argued in favor of aesthetic freedom for black writers; and Claude McKay, a native Jamaican whose works are strongly associated with the Harlem Renaissance. Several of Major's personal recollections, like his boyhood purchase of a well-loved, secondhand copy of Walt Whitman's poems, are surprisingly touching and nostalgic. Recommended for all literary collections. Ellen Sullivan, Ferguson Lib., Stamford, CT (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Part 1 Viewing Myself
Necessary Distance: Afterthoughts on Becoming a Writerp. 13
Discovering Walt Whitmanp. 29
A Paris Fantasy Transformedp. 31
Struga '75p. 35
I Am Reading My Poemsp. 45
Part 2 Views
Tightrope-walking: A Hundred Years of African American Short Storiesp. 53
Rhythm: A Hundred Years of African American Poetryp. 71
Rhythm: Talking that Talkp. 95
Claude McKay: My 1975 Adventurep. 103
White Charctersp. 111
Don, Here Is My Peppermint Striped Shirtp. 117
In Search of Rebeccap. 121
An Appointment with John O'Harap. 129
Wallace Thurman and the Niggeratti Manorp. 131
Looking at the Dialp. 139
Considering the Yale Reviewp. 147
The Little Review in Focusp. 155
Reading William Faulkner's Light in Augustp. 161
Part 3 Reviewing
Black and White in Colorp. 171
A Novel of Consequencep. 175
New World Scheherazadep. 177
Magical Mystery Tourp. 181
An Improbable Lovep. 185
The Unbearable Whiteness of Beingp. 189
Reflections on a Native Sonp. 193
A Sickness of the Soulp. 197
An Alphabet of Future Nightmaresp. 201
Clark's Yorkp. 203
Jerome Charyn: Innovative Detectivep. 207
Somewhere Over the Rainbowp. 211
Booked Solidp. 215
"Dirty" Words and Researchp. 219
America Placed on Trialp. 223
Acknowlegdementsp. 229
End Notesp. 237