An opening reading by Clarence Major


Story by Kirsten Fedorowicz, Staff Writer
Photo courtesy of The Poetry Foundation  

On Sept. 10, 2001, Clarence Major was scheduled to give a night reading at Aquinas College. While he was being picked up by a member of the AQ staff, he was bit by a dog. He took the night to recover and planned to still do an afternoon workshop the next day. That day, Sept. 11, 2001, the Twin Towers fell. When Major came to campus, he did not workshop with students as he was scheduled to; instead, he read poetry about grief, hope, and longing to a full room of the Aquinas community. The reading was so powerful that Major was invited to come back, soon after the fifteenth anniversary of 9/11, to read his works for the Contemporary Writers Series.

Clarence Major has had a successful career teaching creative writing and literature at various colleges, and is well published in writing and often displayed as a painter. Though his reading focused on his poetry, an art in which he has several volumes published, Major is also an acclaimed visual artist and a short story writer. He read a selection from a volume of stories called “Chicago Heat and other stories.” In one of his poems he wrote about Vincent van Gogh’s chair, using poetry to study simplicity as well as painting. During the question and answer session after the reading, Major admitted that his art often influences his writings.

Major is well-traveled, and talked about living in places like Italy, France, and Boulder, Montana. These place studies became the subject of his poetry. However, Major writes often about the small things in order to explore bigger themes. In one of his poems, he uses vivid imagery to discuss a pregnant lizard found on a hike through Colorado, and ends with a sense of longing to find one’s place. Major uses the first-person ‘I’ in his poetry, giving them a sense of storytelling from the poet’s experience. He read the poem he wrote in reflection to spending 9/11 in Grand Rapids, titled “East Lansing, MI” in order to “protect the privacy of the Grand Rapids citizens involved in the events.”

Major is the first in the Contemporary Writers Series 2016-2017 line-up. This season is a celebration of the twenty years the event has been going on. Founded in 1997 by two Aquinas Alumni, Linda Nemec Foster and Tony Foster, the Contemporary Writers Series enriches the Aquinas community by bringing in well-renowned American writers, from poets and essayists to fiction writers. Since the founding of the Contemporary Writers Series, Aquinas has brought 78 writers of various kinds to the Aquinas campus. To quote Provost Stephen Barrows, who opened up Major’s reading, the Contemporary Writers Series helps students and community members “explore what it means to be human” by embracing the art of writing.

The next member of writer in the Contemporary Writers Series will be Anne-Marie Oomen on November 16, in the Wege Ballroom at 7:30pm.  Luis J. Rodriguez and Naomi Shihab Nye will do readings in the spring.

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