George Elliott Clarke

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George Elliott Clarke
George Elliot Clarke reciting poetry.
Clarke in 2018.36
Born (1960-02-12) February 12, 1960 (age 64)
EducationQueen Elizabeth High School
Alma materUniversity of Waterloo; Dalhousie University; Queen's University
  • Writer
  • poet
  • academic
Known forPoet Laureate of Toronto (2012–2015); Canadian Parliamentary Poet Laureate (2016–2017)

George Elliott Clarke, OC ONS (born February 12, 1960) is a Canadian poet, playwright and literary critic who served as the Poet Laureate of Toronto[1] from 2012 to 2015, and as the 2016–2017 Canadian Parliamentary Poet Laureate.[2] His work is known largely for its use of a vast range of literary and artistic traditions (both "high" and "low"), its lush physicality ,and its bold political substance. One of Canada's most illustrious poets, Clarke is also known for chronicling the experience and history of the Black Canadian communities of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, creating a cultural geography that he has coined "Africadia."


Clarke was born to William and Geraldine Clarke in Windsor, Nova Scotia,[3] near the Black Loyalist community of Three Mile Plains, and grew up in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He graduated from Queen Elizabeth High School in 1978.[4]

He earned a BA honours degree in English from the University of Waterloo (1984), an MA degree in English from Dalhousie University (1989) and a PhD 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). He taught English and Canadian Studies at Duke University from 1994 to 1999 and was appointed the Seagrams Visiting Chair in Canadian Studies at McGill University for the academic year 1998–1999.[5]

In 1999, he became professor of English at the University of Toronto, where, in 2003, he was appointed the inaugural E J Pratt Professor of Canadian Literature. Clarke has also served as a Noted Scholar at the University of British Columbia (2002), as a visiting scholar at Mount Allison University (2005), and as the William Lyon Mackenzie King Visiting Professor in Canadian Studies at Harvard University (2013–14); and, outside of the academic sphere, as a researcher for the Ontario Provincial Parliament (1982–83), editor of the Imprint (University of Waterloo, 1984–85) and The Rap (Halifax, 1985–87), social worker for the Black United Front of Nova Scotia (1985–86), parliamentary aide to Howard McCurdy (1987–91), and newspaper columnist for the Halifax Daily News (1988–89).[6]

Clarke is a sought-after conference speaker and is active in poetry circles throughout Canada, the US, the Caribbean, and Europe. He is also a founding member of the music collective Afro-Métis Nation, which put out its first album, Constitution, in May 2019. The group derives its name from the artists' mixed Africadian and Mi'kmaq descent. Clarke has described the group's sound as "a mash-up of southern-fried blues and saltwater spirituals, with Nashville guitars, Mi’kmaw-and-“African” drums, Highland bagpipes and Acadien fiddles."[7]

Writing career[edit]

Clarke is recognized both for his own oeuvre, which includes seventeen collections of poetry, two novels, and four works of drama and opera, and for collecting and promoting stories of African-Canadian writers and poets in anthologies and studies such as Border Lines (1995), Eyeing the North Star (1997), Odysseys Home (2002), Fire on the Water (2002), Directions Home (2012) and Locating Home (2017). His artistic influences stretch from Shakespeare to Miles Davis, from Ezra Pound to Pierre Elliott Trudeau and Malcolm X, and it is from the fertile contradictions and tensions between thinkers of all periods of history that Clarke's later work draws much of its power. His style, with its embrace of the vernacular, the rambunctious, the unresolved and the spontaneous, lends itself well to the bold, passionate performances for which he is well known. His poetic and academic careers intersect in their particular emphasis on the perspectives of the African descendants in Canada and Nova Scotia, especially the African-American slaves’ descendants who settled on 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".[8]

Some of his poetry has also been set to music by the acappella gospel quartet Four the Moment.[9]

He views "Africadian" literature as "literal and liberal—I canonize songs and sonnets, histories and homilies."[8] 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."[10] Clakeke found "as a whole, the group's blunt talk, suave styles, acerbic independence, raunchy macho, feisty lyricism, singing hero,ic and a scarf-and-beret chivalry quite, well, liberating."[10] His poetry and scholarship, which address and challenge historic encounters with racism, segregated areas, discrimination, hatred, forced relocation and a loss of a sense of identity anf belonging experienced by the Black populations of Canada, have earned him worldwide acclaim.

In his anthology Fire On The Water, Clarke uses a biblical timeline stretching from Genesis to Psalms and Proverbs to 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."[8] In his most recent book, These Are the Words, a collaboration with Canadian Poet John B. Lee, Clarke translates one of the nine books of the Bible's apocrypha into a vigorous English vernacular.[11] It is a prime example of his wide and open poetic sensibility, in which the spiritual and the sensual have equally their parts.

His 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: .h’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 and "show the people as people ,not just exponents of ideas.". [12] In 2012 Clarke was given substantial critical recognition in a volume devoted to the body of his writing, Africadian Atlantic: Essays on George Elliott Clarke, edited by Joseph Pivato.

In his 2016 and 2017 collections of poems, the names of which, Canticles I (MXXVI) and Canticles I (MMXVII), are a reference to Ezra Pound's The Cantos and The Song of Solomon, Clarke puts famous thinkers, explorers and rulers of the 17th, 18th and 20th Centuries into a dialogue on slavery and heritage. Together, these collections make up the first part of a projected three-part epic. Canticles II: MMXIX was released in 2019.[13]

In his time as Poet Laureate of Toronto, Clarke created the Poets' Corner at City Hall, and worked with the Toronto Public Library to create the Toronto Poetry Map, an electronic map of the city that marks all sites referenced in Canadian poetry, and presents the relevant lines to the viewer. He also founded the East End Poetry Festival. For these accomplishments and more he is credited with expanding the role and responsibilities of the Poet Laureate considerably. Clarke similarly expanded the role of Canadian Parliamentary Poet Laureate during his tenure, becoming the first to have his poems recited in the Houses and recorded in Hansard.[14]


Clarke is a great-nephew of the late Canadian opera singer Portia White, politician Bill White and labour union leader Jack White. A seventh-generation African Canadian, Clarke is descended from African-American refugees from the War of 1812 who escaped to the British and were relocated to Nova Scotia. He is the great grandson of William Andrew White, an American-born Baptist preacher and missionary, army chaplain, and radio pioneer, who was one of the very few black officers in the British army worldwide during World War I. Clarke also has Mi'kmaq Indigenous ancestry.

Awards and merits[edit]

In 1998 Clarke won the Portia White Prize for Artistic Achievement. In 2001, he won the Governor General's Award for poetry for his book Execution Poems, as well as the National Magazine Gold Medal for Poetry. He has also won the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Achievement Award (2004), the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Fellowship Prize (2005-2008), the Dartmouth Book Award for Fiction (2006), and the Eric Hoffer Book Award for Poetry (2009).[15]

Clarke was appointed to the Order of Nova Scotia in 2006, and to the Order of Canada, at the rank of Officer, in 2008.

On January 16, 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; and in 2009 he was a 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 chosen expressly 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."[16]

In November 2012, Clarke became Toronto's fourth Poet Laureate.[17][18]

In January 2016, Clarke became Canada's seventh Parliamentary Poet Laureate.[19]

In 2018, thanks to a gift from Ms. Rebecca Gardiner, the George Elliott Clarke Scholarship Fund was established at Duke University.[20]

His 2021 book J'Accuse! (Poem versus Silence) was shortlisted for the 2022 ReLit Award for poetry.[21]

In 2022, Clarke was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Platinum Jubilee Medal for his significant service to the province of Nova Scotia in the field of the Arts.[22]


  • "To Paris, Burning," In Constance Rooke (ed.), Writing Away: the PEN Canada Travel Anthology, McClelland & Stewart Inc., 1994.
  • 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
  • Africadian Atlantic: Essays on George Elliott Clarke. ed. Joseph Pivato. Toronto: Guernica Editions, 2012. ISBN 978-1-55071-627-6





  • 2021: Where Beauty Survived

Written Anthologies

Anthologies edited[edit]

  • 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
  • 1995: Border Lines: Contemporary Poems in English. Edited by J.A. Wainwright, George Elliot Clarke and others. Mississauga, Ont.: Copp Clark, 1995. ISBN 0773053425
  • 1997: Eyeing the North Star: Directions in African-Canadian Literature. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1997 ISBN 0-7710-2125-9
  • 2018: Locating Home: The First African-Canadian Novel and Verse Collections. Tightrope Books, 2018. ISBN 1988040213


  • 2002: Odysseys Home: Mapping African-Canadian Literature. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, ISBN 0-8020-8191-6
  • 2011: Directions Home: Approaches to African-Canadian Literature. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, ISBN 978-0-8020-9425-4


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Poet Laureate". City of Toronto. May 20, 2019. Retrieved May 20, 2019.
  2. ^ "George Elliott Clarke, Nova Scotia Writer, Named Parliamentary Poet Laureate" Archived January 8, 2016, at the Wayback Machine. The Canadian Press via The Huffington Post, January 5, 2016.
  3. ^ Compton, Anne (1998). "Standing Your Ground: George Elliott Clarke in Conversation". Studies in Canadian Literature. 23 (2). Retrieved June 6, 2013.
  4. ^ Kimber, Stephen (July 26, 2007). "High times". The Coast.
  5. ^ "George Elliott Clarke". Athabasca University. May 20, 2019. Retrieved May 20, 2019.
  6. ^ "George Elliott Clarke". Squarespace. May 20, 2019. Retrieved May 20, 2019.
  7. ^ "The Afro-Metis Nation "Constitution" Project". AfroMetis. May 20, 2019. Retrieved May 20, 2019.
  8. ^ a b c Clarke, George Elliott, Fire on the Water: Anthology of Black Nova Scotian Writing, Volume One (1991), Porters Lake, Nova Scotia: Pottersfield Press.
  9. ^ "Four the Moment". The Canadian Encyclopedia, February 7, 2006.
  10. ^ a b "Gaspereau Press - Home Page". Retrieved November 5, 2018.
  11. ^ Clarke, George Elliott; Lee, John B. "These Are the Words". Retrieved May 21, 2019.
  12. ^ "Trudeau perfect subject for new opera, Clarke says". July 12, 2006. Archived from the original on May 10, 2007. Retrieved December 26, 2019.
  13. ^ "Canticles I (mmxvii) : George Elliott Clarke". Guernica Editions. Retrieved May 21, 2019.
  14. ^ "A Parliament of Poems: An Interview with Parliamentary Poet, George Elliott Clarke". February 11, 2017.
  15. ^ "MA in the Field of Creative Writing Program Faculty | Biographies". Department of English. Faculty of Arts & Science, University of Toronto. Retrieved August 5, 2023.
  16. ^ "Poetry That Speaks Truth to Power". April 11, 2014.
  17. ^ "Council appoints George Elliott Clarke Toronto's new Poet Laureate". City of Toronto. November 28, 2012. Retrieved September 4, 2013.
  18. ^ "The bizzaro history of the poet laureate" Archived November 5, 2016, at the Wayback Machine. Toronto Star, July 7, 2016. Bruce Demara.
  19. ^ "The Parliament Poet Laureate". Parliament of Canada. January 5, 2016. Retrieved January 5, 2016.
  20. ^ "Full Biography". George Elliott Clarke.
  21. ^ "15 poetry books shortlisted for 2022 ReLit Awards". CBC Books, May 2, 2022.
  22. ^ "Professor George Elliott Clarke was presented with The Queen Elizabeth II's Platinum Jubilee Medal". Department of English. Faculty of Arts & Science, University of Toronto. November 22, 2023. Retrieved August 5, 2023.
  23. ^ "Governor General Announces New Appointments to the Order of Canada". Archived from the original on September 8, 2009.

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Nora Tunkel: Tracing the Lyrics of the Unvoiced: G. E. Clarke, in Tunkel, Transcultural imaginaries. History and globalization in contemporary Canadian literature. Winter, Heidelberg 2012, S. 169–178. = Doct. thesis, Universität Wien, 2009