George Elliott Clarke
George Elliott Clarke, OC ONS (born 12 February 1960) is a Canadian poet and playwright. His work largely explores and chronicles the experience and history of the Black Canadian communities of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, creating a cultural geography that Clarke refers to as "Africadia".
Born to William and Geraldine Clarke in Windsor, Nova Scotia, Clarke has spent much of his career writing about the black communities of Nova Scotia. Clarke worked as a parliamentary assistant to Howard McCurdy, MP in Ottawa. He also taught for a time in the African-American Studies department at Duke University.
Clarke earned a B.A. honours degree in English from the University of Waterloo (1984), an M.A. degree in English from Dalhousie University (1989) and a Ph.D. degree in English from Queen’s University (1993). He has received honorary degrees from Dalhousie University (LL.D.), the University of New Brunswick (Litt.D.), the University of Alberta (Litt.D.), the University of Waterloo (Litt.D.), and most recently, Saint Mary's University (Litt.D).
Clarke is a sought-after conference speaker and is active in poetry circles. He is currently promoting his latest book, I & I (January 2009). It delves into layers of spiritual meanings involving a couple traveling from Halifax to Texas and encountering tragedies of racism and sexism.
Clarke was recognized for collecting and promoting stories of African writers and poets. Clarke lives in Toronto and began teaching Canadian and African diasporic literature in 1999 at University of Toronto where he is currently completing a second volume of essays on African-Canadian literature.
He views “Africadian” literature as “literal and liberal—I canonize songs and sonnets, histories and homilies.”  Clarke has stated that he found further writing inspiration in the 1970s and his “individualist poetic scored with implicit social commentary” came from the ‘Gang of Seven’ intellectuals, “poet-politicos: jazz trumpeter Miles Davis, troubadour-bard Bob Dylan, libertine lyricist Irving Layton, guerrilla leader and poet Mao Zedong, reactionary modernist Ezra Pound, Black Power orator Malcolm X and the Right Honourable Pierre Elliott Trudeau.” Though flawed, Clarke found “as a whole, the group’s blunt talk, suave styles, acerbic independence, raunchy macho, feisty lyricism, singing heroic and a scarf-and-beret chivalry quite, well, liberating.”
Clarke’s literary emphasis is on the perspectives of the African descendents in Canada and Nova Scotia, focusing on the African American slaves’ descendents who settled in the East coast of Nova Scotia, whom he calls “Africadian.” He writes that it is a word that he “minted from “Africa” and “Acadia” (the old name for Nova Scotia and New Brunswick), to denote the Black populations of the Maritimes and especially of Nova Scotia”.
Clarke maintains that Africadians originated in 1783 and 1815, when Black Loyalists and refugees arrived in Nova Scotia.
Clarke continues to address and challenge the historic encounters with racism, segregated areas, discrimination, hatred, forced relocation and a loss of a sense of identity and a sense of belonging experienced by the Black descendents though they had settled in Canada for hundreds of years. Black immigrations to and within Canada have been compared to a biblical journey beginning with Lamentations and ending with Exodus.
Similarly, Clarke explores specific beliefs, longings and experience of oppression and resistance, the desire for safety, freedom, equality and other basic human rights, shared among the immigrants, historically and contemporaneously. In his anthology Fire On The Water Clarke uses biblical timeline, Genesis, Psalms and Proverbs and Revelation to present Black writings and authors born within a specific period. These names reflect the Africadians’ and other Black peoples’ forebears and the first singers' own preferences for singing “the Lord’s song in this strange land.”
Clarke is known for his lyrical style, and his other intellectual contributions involve both his ability to combine literary criticism and theatrical forte and his continuance of the themes of cultural inclusiveness and Canadian iconic symbolism. In his 2007 play Trudeau: Long March, Shining Path, Clarke features his Liberal hero Trudeau (1919–2000) describing him as “the Shakespearean character: … He’s a figure about whom it is almost impossible to say anything definitive, because he is encompassed by so many contradictions but that’s what makes him interesting.” In presenting a multicultural Trudeau on the international stage, Clarke seeks to capture the human dimensions, the personality of Trudeau rather than his politics so as to emphasize the dialogues among key characters to “show the people as people not just exponents of ideas”.
Clarke is a great-nephew of the late Canadian opera singer Portia White, politician Bill White and labour union leader Jack White. Clarke is a seventh-generation African Canadian and is descended from African American refugees from the War of 1812 who escaped to the British and were relocated to Nova Scotia. Clarke is the great grandson of William Andrew White, an American born Baptist preacher and missionary, army chaplain, and radio pioneer, who was the only black officer in the British army worldwide during World War I.
Awards and Merits
Clarke has received several awards. The most recent (2009) was as co-recipient of the William P. Hubbard Award for Race Relations from the City of Toronto for his outstanding achievements and commitment in making a distinct difference in racial relations in Toronto. Clarke was cited for "his local and national leadership role in creating an understanding and awareness of African and black culture and excellence in his contribution to redefining culture.” He was a featured writer/instructor at the 2007 Maritime Writers' Workshop & Literary Festival in Fredericton, New Brunswick.
On 16 January 2008 Clarke was made an honorary Fellow of the Haliburton Literary Society, the oldest literary society in North America, at the University of King's College, Halifax. He was also inducted as an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2008.
In 2001 Clarke won the Governor General's Award for poetry for his book Execution Poems.
In November 2012, Clarke became Toronto's fourth Poet Laureate.
- “To Paris, Burning,” In Writing Away: the PEN Canada Travel Anthology. 1994. By Constance Rooke. McClelland & Stewart Inc.
Kamboureli, Smaro (1996)
- Making a Difference: Canadian Multicultural Literature. Toronto, Oxford University Press. Pp. 491
Tracey, Lindalee (1999)
- A Scattering of Seeds: The Creation of Canada. Toronto: McArthur & Company
- 1983: Saltwater Spirituals and Deeper Blues, Lawrencetown Beach, Nova Scotia: Pottersfield, ISBN 0-919001-12-2
- 1990: Whylah Falls, Vancouver: Polestar, ISBN 0-919591-57-4 (revised edition, 2000 ISBN 1-896095-50-X)
- 1994: Lush Dreams, Blue Exile: Fugitive Poems 1978–1993. Lawrencetown Beach, Nova Scotia: Pottersfield, ISBN 0-919001-83-1
- 1999: Gold Indigoes. Durham: Carolina Wren, ISBN 0-932112-40-4
- 2001: Execution Poems: The Black Acadian Tragedy of George and Rue. Wolfville, Nova Scotia, Gaspereau Press, ISBN 1-894031-48-2
- 2001: Blue. Vancouver: Polestar, ISBN 1-55192-414-5
- 2005: Illuminated Verses. Toronto: Canadian Scholars' Press, ISBN 1-55130-280-2
- 2006: Black. Vancouver: Polestar, ISBN 1-55192-903-1
- 2009: I & I. Fredericton: Goose Lane, ISBN 978-0-86492-513-8
- 1999: Whylah Falls: The Play. Toronto: Playwrights Canada, ISBN 0-88754-565-3
- 1999: Beatrice Chancy. Vancouver: Polestar, ISBN 1-896095-94-1
- 2003: Québécité. Wolfville, Nova Scotia, Gaspereau Press, ISBN 1-894031-74-1
- 2007: Trudeau: Long March, Shining Path. Kentville, Nova Scotia: Gaspereau Press, ISBN 1-55447-037-4
- 1991: Fire on the Water: An Anthology of Black Nova Scotian Writing, Volume One. Lawrencetown Beach, Nova Scotia: Pottersfield, ISBN 0-919001-67-X
- 1992: Fire on the Water: An Anthology of Black Nova Scotian Writing, Volume Two. Lawrencetown Beach, Nova Scotia: Pottersfield, ISBN 0-919001-71-8
- 1997: Eyeing the North Star: Directions in African-Canadian Literature. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1997 ISBN 0-7710-2125-9
- 2002: Odysseys Home: Mapping African-Canadian Literature. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, ISBN 0-8020-8191-6
- 1979: Honourable Mention, Atlantic Writing Competition (Adult Poetry), Writers' Federation of Nova Scotia
- 1981: First Prize, Atlantic Writing Competition (Adult Poetry), Writers' Federation of Nova Scotia
- 1983: Second Prize, Bliss Carman Poetry Award, Banff Centre
- 1991: Archibald Lampman Award for Poetry, Ottawa Independent Writers
- 1998: Portia White Prize, Nova Scotia Arts Council
- 1998: Bellagio Centre Fellow, Rockefeller Foundation, New York City
- 1999: Alumni Achievement Award, University of Waterloo
- 2002: Governor General's Award for Poetry, for Execution Poems
- National Magazine Gold Award for Poetry
- 2004: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Achievement Award, Black Theatre Workshop
- 2006: Pierre Elliott Trudeau Fellowship Prize, Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation
- 2006: Dartmouth Book Award for Fiction
- 2006: Frontieras Poesis Premuil [Prize], Poesis Magazine, International Poetry Festival, Satu Mare, Romania
- 2006: Order of Nova Scotia
- 2007: Longlisted for the IMPAC Award, for George and Rue
- 2008: Officer of the Order of Canada
- 2009: Shortlisted, Dartmouth Book Award for Fiction
- 2010: Shortlisted, Acorn-Plantos Award for People’s Poetry
- Compton, Anne (1998). "Standing Your Ground: George Elliott Clarke in Conversation". Studies in Canadian Literature 23 (2). Retrieved 2013-06-06.
- Kamboureli, Smaro (1996). Making a Difference: Canadian Multicultural Literature. Toronto, Oxford University Press
- (http://www.writers.ns.cal; http://www.gooselane.com/book.
- Clarke, George Elliott, Fire On The Water: Anthology of Black Nova Scotian Writing, Volume One. (1991). Pottersfield Press. Porters Lake, Nova Scotia
- Tracey, Lindalee (1999). A Scattering of Seeds: The Creation of Canada. Toronto: McArthur & Company
- "Council appoints George Elliott Clarke Toronto's new Poet Laureate". City of Toronto. November 28, 2012. Retrieved 4 September 2013.
- "Governor General Announces New Appointments to the Order of Canada".
- "Transcript of interview with Ramona Koval", ABC Radio National, recorded Montreal, Blue Metropolis Literary Festival, April 2005
- Brief Bio
- George Elliott Clarke's entry in The Canadian Encyclopedia
- Full list of works
- Book Review: George Elliott Clarke’s George & Rue
- Poet of the Month from CBC Words at Large (February 2007)
- On "This Part May Be Cited as the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms" at Library and Archives Canada