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Maxine Clair

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October Suite by Maxine Clair (Hardcover Edition)

October Suite by Maxine Clair (Paperback Edition)

Rattlebone by Maxine Clair

Coping With Gravity by Maxine Clair


Maxine Clair was born and raised in Kansas City, Kansas, in the 1950s. She is a poet, short story writer, and novelist. She attentded the University of Kansas in Lawrence where she studied science. Clair went on to a career in medical technology as chief technologist at a children's hospital in Washington, D.C. It was while workingthere that Clair became interested in writing. She pursued and achieved her M.F.A. at George Washington University where she is currently an associate professor of English.

Her first book, a collection of poetry, Coping With Gravity, was published in 1988. In 1992 she published a fiction chapbook entitled October Brown, which earned her an Artscape Prize for Maryland Writers. Her next book, Rattlebone, was published in 1994 and is perhaps her most well-known work. Rattlebone is a collection of interrelated stories revolving around the life of a young African-American girl coming of age in a small African-American neighborhood called Rattlebone, in Kansas City, Kansas. Clair got the name of her book from Rattlebone Hollow, a North Kansas City, Kansas, neighborhood.

Her most recent work is October Suite, published in 2001. This novel takes a character from her chapbook October Brown and her novel Rattlebone and explores her life and experiences as an unwed teacher and African-American mother in the 1950s. The novel is a journey of self discovery for its lead character, October Brown, and was well received by critics.

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Bibliography ( - housed in Thomas Fox Averill Kansas Studies Collection)  


Contributor to:

  • Icarus
  • Kenyon Review
  • Victoria
  • Callaloo
  • Story
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Writing Samples  

Poetry Selections:

---from Coping With Gravity:

Coal Oil and Sugar, 1954
When the nine o'clock whistle blows
our way, we can smell manure and bacon
from the packing house across the river,
The August night sky leans down for us
to touch. Mamma Hayes braids her hair
on her porch. Down the block somebody
yells, All hid? Next door Georgie, who's
too slow to read and cannot go to school, begs to stay
outside until ten when the street light goes out
and we go to bed thinking of school one sleep away.

Rosedale, Kansas
Mirages hovered above undulant highways
and summer stomped his dusty feet,
conjured up sunflowers
that ran wildly through fields of cornsilk.
Giant brown faces with yellow rays
stampeded to pavement edge
and stood cooling their feet in the clay.

The Adulterers
In the first place
don't mess with no Pharisee men.
They don't mind taking your time,
but they treat you back-street.

Before they picked up stones,
threatening my life trying to make
a point, sleeping with another
woman's man wasn't really no thing,
more like a little story to spruce up
the big one, but never a real
climax, know what I mean?


Well now this Teacher stands up
and the sun's bouncing off Him
like gold pieces and He looks at me.
Let me tell you, I knnw when a man
wants me and let me tell you
He didn't. And He didn't pity
me either, He wasn't even lording
it over me.


Well the Teacher Man looks
at these Pharisees and asks if any
of them ever done anything wrong
like lie or steal or call somebody
out of their name or swear or cheat
or gossip. Of course nobody
can say nothing. Then said this
Teacher, Whoever is without
the tiniest bit of sin can throw
the first stone at this woman
talking about me.

Prose Selections:

---from October Suite

Chapter 1
In the Midwest, October comes in when the pale coverlet of sky lifts away, exposing an eternity of deep and certain blue. The sun no longer stares, merely glances and makes long shadows much like the uneven fading of green from trees just before the leser pigments fire-light the whole outdoors. The air cools to crisp, carries sound farther. Last pears ripen and fall, ferment on the ground; the aroma of their wine mixes with the pungency of leaf smoke from nowhere and everywhere. At nightfall, the wing-song shrill of crickets announces that this season has a natural pathos to it, the brief and flaming brilliance of everythign at the climax of life moving toward death.

October Brown had named herself for all of that. Unwittingly at first.


---Reviews for October Suite

October's story is told with a quiet drama, enriched by period details and well-developed characters who act with realistic compassion and cruelty. An absorbing look at a woman coming to terms with her past and shaping a better future.
---Carrie Bissey, Booklist

Told in a melody all its own, this story touches many lovely and unexpected notes. October Brown chooses to reinvent herself, only to inadvertently discover herself, and the final chord of accepting herself (and others) reverberates poignantly.
---Elizabeth Strout


---from "Water Seeks Its Own Level"

This is what he saw: two muddy rivers coursing toward each other, rushing as if they were drawn by the axis of a great Y, then their headlong crash and the furious confusion over which river would prevail. Beyond this junction, the Kaw ceased to exist, and the Missouri flowed on. Such tides were not easily turned.

All day James Wilson had sat on the steps outside Union Hall, waiting to be sent on a job. Any job. But preferably to the subdivision in Olathe where, for several months, Cordon Construction had been laying foundations, and he had been bricking them in. The pay was good. Better than good. But the white boys were getting even better than that. Two days earlier he had protested--not so respectfully--the formean's scheme of sending all the men home and letting the white boys sneak back for overtime. He admitted to himself that if he could have just ignored it, just let it go, he would be working in Olathe instead of standing on ahill in Rattlebone watching the river rise.

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Honors and Awards

  • Edgar Wolfe Literary Award, Friends of the Library in Kansas City, Kansas, 1996.
  • Black Caucus Award for Fiction, American Library Association, Heartland Prize for Fiction, Chicago Tribune, and fiction award, Friends of American Literature for Rattlebone.
  • Artscape Prize for Coping With Gravity
  • Guggenheim fellowship
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Maxine's Website

Maxine's Facebook

Book Browse author biography

Good Reads author biography

Houston Style Magazine interview (2014)

Agate article

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