George Elliott Clarke (1960- )

George Elliott Clarke
Fair use image

George Elliott Clarke, a poet, playwright and literary critic is also the E.J Pratt Professor of Canadian Literature at the University of Toronto (Ontario). Clarke was born near the Black Loyalist community of Windsor Plains, Nova Scotia. He is a seventh generation Canadian descendant of black loyalists who were repatriated from the United States to British Canada immediately after the American Revolution.

Clarke graduated with B.A. honours in English from the University of Waterloo in Waterloo, Ontario (1984) an M.A. in English from Dalhousie University in Halifax (1989) and a Ph. D. in English from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario (1993). He joined the faculty of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina before moving to McGill University in Montreal in 1994. Clarke became a professor of English at the University of Toronto in 1999, where he currently teaches Canadian and African diasporic literature.

Clarke has published verse collections such as Saltwater Spirituals and Deeper Blues (1983), and Lush Dreams, Blue Exile (1994), a verse play, Whylah Falls which was performed in Venice, Italy in 2002.  His opera Beatrice Chancy, with music by James Rolfe, has had a number of stage productions and a broadcast on CBC television since 1999. This powerful opera about slavery in Nova Scotia in the early 19th Century featured Canadian opera singer Measha Brueggergosman.

Clarke’s poetry is written in a lyrical style, frequently alluding to the religious heritage of black loyalists and their descendants.  His work mainly explores and chronicles the experience and history of the Black Canadian community of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, a community he calls “Africadia.” Clarke has also been instrumental in promoting the work of writers of African descent, especially those of Nova Scotia. In 2002 he published Odysseys Home: Mapping African-Canadian Literature.

Clarke was the first recipient of the prestigious Portia White Prize for Artistic Achievement from the Nova Scotia Arts Council (1998).  Named after one of Nova Scotia’s distinguished musical pioneers, the Portia White Prize recognizes cultural and artistic excellence. He also received the Outstanding Writer in Film and Television Award (2000), and three honorary doctorates from Canadian Universities. Clarke was presented the Martin Luther King Jr. Achievement Award in 2004, and the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Fellows Prize in Montreal in 2005. In October 2006, he was appointed the Order of Nova Scotia, and received an Honorary Doctorate of Letters (honoris causa) from the University of Waterloo.

George Elliott Clarke lives in Toronto.