Clarke, a ‘crucial voice to under-represented experiences’


Age does not matter but rather it’s how you matter to your age that counts, English Literature professor Dr. George Elliott Clarke told University of Windsor graduates last Saturday.

He was bestowed with an honorary Doctor of Laws degree – his seventh – at the 94th annual fall convocation.

In his address, Clarke pointed out that 50 years ago when he was born in Windsor, Nova Scotia, it was fashionable for radical youth of that era to chant, “don’t trust anyone over 30″.

“As a man of 50, I find that slogan to be unduly harsh,” said Clarke, who is the E.J. Pratt professor of Canadian Literature at the University of Toronto. “But what those young radicals really meant was anyone over 30 is likely entrenched in and has settled for the ideals and values of conservatism and therefore is not interested in contributing to struggle for social renewal. Their insight was that adults who had families, careers and mortgages and who wanted to be able to have pensions could not be as interested in social progress as could a younger person.

“Moreover, one could imagine, 50 years ago, that anyone over 30 no longer had a relevant education and that he or she was stuck in a horse and buggy while others were piloting spacecraft. In a sense, that’s true. I like my landline phone, I don’t understand texting and, as an English professor and as a writer, I am suspicious of technologies that say it’s OK to misspell words and eliminate punctuation, grammar and upper case letters.

“Even so, the ‘white noise’ about one’s age group being more trustworthy than another or that any education can be irrelevant must be muted if we remember that citizens, especially voting age citizens, have duties and I believe one of them is to vigorously and unstintingly apply the profound gift of analysis.

“To me, that is what our education has equipped us to do and it can be done anywhere, anytime and with anyone. It’s never irrelevant, always timely and of course essential for communities in struggle – working-class, minority, Aboriginal and others.”

While his academic career has taken him away from his province to Duke and McGill universities and now the U of T, Clarke has sustained a deep connection and commitment to his community in Nova Scotia and is a contributing columnist to The Halifax Chronicle-Herald.

“George Elliott Clarke is a wise man,” said University of Windsor associate professor Dr. Susan Holbrook. “He has engaged the experiences, cultures and history of African-Canadians through his work as a poet, playwright, newspaper columnist, editor, critic and teacher published in a variety of genres.

“He has also given crucial voice to under-represented experiences, both past and present in our country. His national and international reputation attests to his powerful and generative influence.”

A former parliamentary assistant to retired politician and university professor Dr. Howard McCurdy, Clarke has received several writing awards, including the Governor General’s award for Poetry and he’s the recipient of the Order of Canada and the Order of Nova Scotia.


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