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Austin Clarke (novelist)

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Austin Clarke
BornAustin Ardinel Chesterfield Clarke
(1934-07-26)July 26, 1934
St. James, Barbados
DiedJune 26, 2016(2016-06-26) (aged 81)
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
  • Novelist
  • short story writer
  • essayist
NationalityBarbadian, Canadian
EducationTrinity College, Toronto
Notable worksThe Polished Hoe (2002)

Austin Ardinel Chesterfield "Tom" Clarke, CM OOnt (July 26, 1934 – June 26, 2016),[1] was a Barbadian novelist, essayist, and short story writer who was based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Among his notable books are novels such as The Polished Hoe (2002), memoirs including Membering (2015), and two collections of poetry, Where the Sun Shines Best (2013) and In Your Crib (2015).

Early life and education[edit]

Austin Clarke was born in 1934 in St. James, Barbados, where he received his early education in Anglican schools.[2] He taught at a rural school for three years. In 1955, he moved to Canada and attended the University of Toronto's Trinity College for two years.[2][3]


Clarke was a reporter at the Timmins Daily Press and the Globe and Mail, before joining the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation as a freelance journalist. He subsequently taught at several American universities, including Yale University (Hoyt fellow, 1968–70), Duke University (1971–72), and the University of Texas (visiting professor, 1973) and helped establish black studies programs at several universities.[4][5][3]

In 1973, he was designated cultural attaché at the Barbadian embassy in Washington, DC. He was later General Manager of the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation in Barbados (1975–77).[6] He was writer in residence at Concordia University, Montreal, Quebec (1977), and at the University of Western Ontario (1978).[4] He became a Canadian citizen in 1981.[2] From 1988 to 1993 he served on the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada.[7]

He was not the first Canadian writer of African origin, that distinction belonging to 19th-century author Amelia E. Johnson. However, George Elliott Clarke says that Clarke was "the author of African descent in English, in Canada, that anyone who was interested in being a writer would have to be aware of, to challenge as well."[3] In September 2012, at the International Festival of Authors, Clarke was announced as the winner of the $10,000 Harbourfront Festival Prize "on the merits of his published work and efforts in fostering literary talent in new and aspiring writers".[8][9] Previous recipients of the award (established in 1984) include: Dionne Brand, Wayson Choy, Christopher Dewdney, Helen Humphreys, Paul Quarrington, Peter Robinson, Seth, Jane Urquhart, and Guy Vanderhaeghe. Clarke was reported as saying: "I rejoiced when I saw that Authors at Harbourfront Centre had named me this year's winner of the Harbourfront Festival Prize. I did not come to this city on September 29, 1959, as a writer. I came as a student. However, my career as a writer buried any contention of being a scholar and I thank Authors at Harbourfront Centre for saving me from the more painful life of the 'gradual student.' It is an honour to be part of such a prestigious list of authors."[10]

An outspoken intellectual, he avoided talking about multiculturalism, hoping his own term omniculturalism could be accepted by people from both the political left and right.[3] He ran as a Progressive Conservative candidate in the 1977 Ontario general election.[2]

Clarke died on June 26, 2016, at the age of 81, in Toronto.[11][12][13][14]

Selected awards and honours[edit]



  • The Survivors of the Crossing (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1964)
  • Amongst Thistles and Thorns (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1965)
  • The Meeting Point (Toronto: Macmillan, 1967; Boston: Little, Brown, 1972)
  • Storm of Fortune (Boston: Little, Brown, 1973)
  • The Bigger Light (Boston: Little, Brown, 1975)
  • The Prime Minister (Don Mills, Ont.: General Publishing, 1977)
  • Proud Empires (London: Gollancz, 1986; Penguin-Viking, 1988, ISBN 978-0670817566)
  • The Origin of Waves (McClelland & Stewart, 1997; winner of the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize)
  • The Question (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1999; nominated for a Governor General's Award)
  • The Polished Hoe (Toronto: Thomas Allen, 2002; winner of the Giller Prize and the Commonwealth Writers' Prize)
  • More (2008, winner of the City of Toronto Book Award)

Short story collections[edit]

  • When He Was Free and Young and He Used to Wear Silks (Toronto: Anansi, 1971; revised edition Little, Brown, 1973)
  • When Women Rule (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1985)
  • Nine Men Who Laughed (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1986)
  • In This City (Toronto: Exile Editions, 1992)
  • There Are No Elders (Toronto: Exile Editions, 1993)
  • The Austin Clarke Reader, ed. Barry Callaghan (Toronto: Exile Editions, 1996)
  • Choosing His Coffin: The Best Stories of Austin Clarke (Toronto: Thomas Allen, 2003)
  • They Never Told Me: and Other Stories (Holstein, ON: Exile Editions, 2013)
  • Canadian Experience (Toronto: Exile Editions, 1994)


  • Where the Sun Shines Best (Toronto: Guernica Editions, 2013)
  • In Your Crib (Toronto: Guernica Editions, 2015)


  • Growing Up Stupid Under the Union Jack: a Memoir (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1980; Thomas Allen, 2005, ISBN 978-0887621888)
  • "A Stranger In A Strange Land", The Globe and Mail, Toronto, 15 August 1990, p. 30.
  • Public Enemies: Police Violence and Black Youth (Toronto: HarperCollins, 1992)
  • A Passage Back Home: A Personal Reminiscence of Samuel Selvon (Toronto: Exile Editions, 1994)
  • Pigtails 'n Breadfruit: A Culinary Memoir (New Press, 1999); as Pigtails 'n' Breadfruit: The Rituals of Slave Food, A Barbadian Memoir (Toronto: Random House, 1999; University of Toronto Press, 2001); Pig Tails 'n' Breadfruit - Anniversary Edition (Ian Randle Publishers, 2014, ISBN 978-9766378820)
  • Love and Sweet Food: A Culinary Memoir (Toronto: Thomas Allen, 2004; ISBN 978-0887621536)
  • ′Membering (Toronto: Dundurn Press, 2015)[15]


  1. ^ "Obituary: Austin Clarke, author". The Scotsman. 2016-06-27. Archived from the original on 2018-09-01.
  2. ^ a b c d e Whyte, Murray (2016-06-26). "Acclaimed Toronto author Austin Clarke dead at 81". Toronto Star. Archived from the original on 2023-06-03.
  3. ^ a b c d Enright, Michael (February 17, 2019). Revisiting Austin Clarke's novel about memory, migration and a chance encounter (Radio program). CBC.
  4. ^ a b "Austin C. Clarke", Gale Contemporary Black Biography.
  5. ^ "Austin Clarke" Archived June 6, 2012, at the Wayback Machine, The Canadian Encyclopedia.
  6. ^ "Austin Clarke", Alliaougana Festival website, 2010.
  7. ^ Austin Clarke biography at Bim Literary Festival and Book Fair, 2012.
  8. ^ Paul Irish, "Austin Clarke wins Harbourfront Festival Prize", TheStar.com, September 28, 2012.
  9. ^ Mark Medley, "Austin Clarke wins Harbourfront Festival Prize". Archived January 29, 2013, at archive.today, National Post, September 27, 2012.
  10. ^ "Austin Clarke named recipient of the Harbourfront Festival Prize". Archived July 7, 2015, at the Wayback Machine, Open Book Toronto, September 28, 2012.
  11. ^ "Tom Clarke passes". The Daily Nation. 2016-06-26. Archived from the original on 2019-04-01.
  12. ^ "Austin CLARKE Obituary (1934 - 2016) - Legacy Remembers". National Post. 2016-07-05. Archived from the original on 2016-08-13.
  13. ^ "Austin Clarke, author of The Polished Hoe, dead at 81". CBC News. 2016-06-26. Archived from the original on 2017-01-03.
  14. ^ "Austin Clarke, Canadian Author Who Explored Black Experience, Dies at 81". The New York Times. 2016-06-27. Archived from the original on 2016-10-24.
  15. ^ "′Membering" page Archived 2016-03-04 at the Wayback Machine at Dundurn.

External links[edit]