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Athabasca University

George Elliott Clarke

Photo of George Elliott Clarke

In addition to being a poet, playwright and literary critic Clarke is the E.J. Pratt Professor of Canadian Literature at the University of Toronto. He taught English and Canadian Studies at Duke University (1994-1999). During 1998-99 he was appointed the Visiting Seagrams Chair in Canadian Studies at McGill University, then became professor of English at the U. of T. in 1999, before being appointed E.J. Pratt Professor in 2003.

George Elliott Clarke was born in Windsor, Nova Scotia in 1960, a seventh-generation Canadian of African-American and Mi’kmaq Amerindian heritage. He earned a B.A. honours in English from the University of Waterloo (1984), an M.A. in English from Dalhousie University (1989) and a Ph.D. in English from Queen’s University (1993). Before joining the academic profession Clarke was employed in a variety of jobs: parliamentary aide (House of Commons, Ottawa, 1987-91), newspaper editor in Halifax and then Waterloo, social worker in Halifax (1985-86) and legislative researcher (Provincial Parliament, Toronto, 1982-83). He still writes a column for the Halifax Herald and is a freelance contributor to numerous publications.

As a writer George Elliott Clarke has published in a variety of genres: verse collections, Saltwater Spirituals and Deeper Blues (1983), and Lush Dreams, Blue Exile (1994), a verse-novel, Whylah Falls (1990 & 2000), two verse plays, Whylah Falls: The Play (1999 & 2000), and Beatrice Chancy (1999). His opera Beatrice Chancy, with music by James Rolfe, has had four stage productions and a broadcast on CBC television. This powerful opera about slavery in the Nova Scotia of the early 1800s won great reviews and enthusiastic audiences. He wrote the screenplay for the feature film, One Heart Broken Into Song (Dir. Clement Virgo, 1999). The verse play, Whylah Falls, was staged in Venice in Italian (2002). Clarke continues to publish poetry with Provençal Songs (1993 & 1997), Gold Indigoes (2000), Blue (2001) and Illuminated Verse (2005). His Execution Poems (2001) won the Governor General’s Award for Poetry.

Clarke has 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. See the bibliography for a list which includes his poetry, edited books, criticism in postcolonial literature and other academic publications.

The work of George Elliott Clarke has won awards in addition to critical recognition among these are the Portia White Prize for Artistic Achievement from the Nova Scotia Arts Council, a Bellagio Center Fellowship (1998), the Outstanding Writer in Film and Television Award (2000) and three honorary doctorates: a Doctor of Laws degree (Dalhousie University, 1999) a Doctor of Letters degree (University of New Brunswick, 2000) and Doctor of Letters from the University of Alberta (2005). He was given the Martin Luther King Jr. Achievement Award in 2004, and the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Fellows Prize, Montreal, 2005. He earned the Distinguished Teaching Award, the Black Alumni Association Faculty Achievement Award and the Undergraduate Teaching Award, all at the University of Toronto in 2005. Planet Africa TV gave him the Planet Africa Renaissance Award, Toronto, 2005. George Elliott Clarke has been an invited speaker to conferences and universities around the world. In October, 2006, he was appointed to the Order of Nova Scotia, and received an Honorary Doctor of Letters (honoris causa) from the University of Waterloo. In October 2010 he received his seventh honorary doctorate: Doctor of Laws, University of Windsor.

Clarke coined the term, 'Africadian' to identify the Black culture of Atlantic Canada. The term is used in the title, Africadian Atlantic: Essays on George Elliott Clarke, edited by Joseph Pivato, a collection of 14 academic essays on Clarke's literary achievements.

Updated February 12 2015 by Student & Academic Services

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