Austin Clarke wins City of Toronto book award

By RON FANFAIR

The third time was a charm for Canadian writer Austin Clarke, who won this year’s Toronto Book Awards prize for his novel, More.

Clarke was nominated for the $15,000 award in its first year in 1974 for A Storm of Fortune, the second of his Toronto Trilogy. His third in the trilogy, The Bigger Light, was also nominated two years later.

This year marks the 35th anniversary of the Toronto Book Awards which coincides with the City of Toronto’s 175th anniversary.

“I want to congratulate Austin Clarke for his novel that gives a unique perspective about our diverse city and was selected from over 75 book submissions,” said Mayor David Miller. “Clarke and the other four shortlisted authors tell great stories about Toronto as we celebrate the 35th anniversary of the awards and the 175th year as an incorporated city.”

More, to which Clarke said he has made several revisions since completing it for the first time in 1987, tells the story of an immigrant woman against the backdrop of crime and violence in the city.

Upon learning of her son’s involvement in gang violence, Idora Morrison collapses in her rented basement apartment. For four days, she retreats into a vortex of memory, pain and disappointment that unravels a riveting dissection of her life as an immigrant Black in Toronto.

Toronto Public Library’s city librarian Jane Pyper commended Clarke for penning the masterful and timely story about a woman and mother and about the complexity of race and poverty in the city.

The awards committee described Clarke’s novel as “painting a vivid and powerful portrait of a Black woman’s four-day journey as she relives her life in Canada as an immigrant from the West Indies. Her enduring sorrow, balanced by hard work and short bouts of gaiety and joy, ensures her presence as a memorable and powerful figure in Canadian literature.”

Clarke is the author of six short story collections, three memoirs and 11 novels, including The Polished Hoe that won the 2002 Giller Prize – Canada’s top award for fiction – the 2003 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and that year’s Trillium award.

Previous Toronto Book Awards winners include Governor General’s award-winning writer and Toronto poet laureate Dionne Brand in 2006 for her novel, What We All Long For.

Clarke, 75, came to Toronto from Barbados in 1955 to attend the University of Toronto. He later worked as a reporter in Timmins and Kirkland Lake before joining the CBC as a freelance producer and broadcaster. It was while he worked in the Canadian media that he wrote his first novel, The Survivors of the Crossing, which was released in 1964.

He also lectured at several American universities, served as Barbados’ cultural and press attaché in Washington, as adviser to late Prime Minister Errol Barrow and also as general manager of the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation in Barbados before returning to Canada n 1976.

Clarke was made member of the Order of Canada in 1998.

 

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