Acclaimed poet, playwright, literary critic and university professor, Dr. George Elliott Clarke, is the city’s fourth poet laureate. He replaces award-winning author, Dionne Brand, who held the position for the last three years.
As the city’s appointed poet, Dr. Clarke will attend events across Toronto to promote and attract people to the literary world and he’s mandated to create a legacy project.
Councillor Michael Thompson, the chair of the city’s economic development committee, said Clarke will enrich the poet laureate position with his many talents and accomplishments.
“In addition to the accolades he has received as a poet and playwright, his dedication to education and his tremendous support of Canadian writers and the literary community have been nationally recognized by his appointment as an Officer of the Order of Canada,” said Thompson.
Clarke was inducted as an Officer in the Order of Canada four years ago. The former parliamentary assistant to retired politician and university professor, Dr. Howard McCurdy, is the winner of several writing awards, including the Governor General’s Award for Poetry and the Dartmouth Book Award for Poetry.
Clarke is also the recipient of the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Fellowship Prize bestowed upon the finest thinkers who have demonstrated outstanding research achievements, creativity and social commitment in all disciplines of the humanities and social sciences, seven honorary doctorates and the Order of Nova Scotia.
The E.J. Pratt professor of Canadian Literature at the University of Toronto, Clarke is looking forward to the stimulating challenge of imagining words of beauty and emotion that possibly mirror and echo the multicultural mosaic of the city.
“Our greatness is our global community which is a mixture of people that is found nowhere else in the world and that represents a dynamic, attractive and inspiring cosmopolitan,” said Clarke. “The post of poet laureate is a magical offering and I am humbled to follow in the brilliant wake of Dionne Brand, Pier Giorgio di Cicco and Dennis Lee…Dionne is an impossible act to follow for she has written of Toronto so incredibly beautifully. I look at her works and I see signposts pointing the direction forward for me and for those who will come after me.
“Most of my work has been done in Toronto, but now I will begin to think and consider more intensively about the rough glamour that is our city and the citizenry who are beautiful in their kaleidoscopic diversity, but who may not yet really celebrate it enough. As a literary ambassador, I think what I should do is honour this masterpiece which is an assembly of the world’s peoples jostling each other, but also dancing together to formulate some notion of a functioning egalitarianism.”
Clarke will receive an annual $10,000 honorarium for three years to serve as the city’s literary ambassador which is a position that was created 11 years ago.
Award-winning poet, author and historian, Dr. Afua Cooper, welcomed Clarke’s appointment.
“George is a brilliant poet who has shared his work with Torontonians and the world for at least three decades,” said the holder of the James Johnston Endowed Chair in Black Canadian Studies at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia. “He is also a people person in that he’s very warm, down to earth, and very generous with his time, words and advice and he has a great rapport with youths. He is also very culturally competent and as such will be a great ambassador for Toronto and for poetry.”
While his academic career has taken him away from his birth province Nova Scotia to Duke and McGill universities and now the U of T, Clarke has sustained a deep connection and commitment to the Maritime community and is a contributing columnist to The Halifax Chronicle-Herald.
A seventh-generation African-Canadian, Clarke is the great-nephew of the late Portia White, considered one of Canada’s greatest vocalists and a Person of National Significance; Bill White, who was the first Black person to run for federal office in Canada in 1949 and labour union activist, Jack White, who was the first elected Black representative of the Ironworkers Union.