Austin Clarke, Canadian Author Who Explored Black Experience, Dies at 81


Here is an obituary piece published in The New York Times yesterday (27 June 2016) about Austin Clarke, award-winning author born in Barbados. The author died on Sunday in Toronto at age 81.

[. . .] Mr. Clarke won the prestigious Scotiabank Giller Prize and the Commonwealth Writers Prize for his 2002 novel, “The Polished Hoe.” Set in the years immediately after World War II, it tells the story of Mary-Mathilda, a former house servant and mistress to a plantation’s powerful overseer, who years later offers a murder confession that lasts an entire night, forming an oral history “steeped in slavery, colonialism and sexual exploitation,” Ihsan Taylor wrote in The New York Times Book Review.

His final work was a memoir, “’Membering,” published last year. It describes his struggles with racial discrimination and his early days as a journalist covering the civil rights movement in Harlem in the 1960s. In all he wrote 10 novels, five short-story collections and several memoirs.

“Certainly, there is no other black Canadian author who has been so heartily embraced as Austin Clarke,” the literary critic Donna Bailey Nurse wrote in a 2003 profile in the trade magazine Quill & Quire.

Austin Chesterfield Clarke was born on July 26, 1934, in St. James, Barbados, and moved to Canada in 1955 to attend the University of Toronto. He turned to journalism before embarking on a career writing fiction.

His first two novels, “The Survivors of the Crossing” (1964) and “The Meeting Point” (1967), were set in the West Indies.

Mr. Clarke was a visiting lecturer at American universities in the late 1960s and early ‘70s and a founder of Yale University’s black studies program. For a time he was a cultural attaché to the Barbadian Embassy in Washington.

He moved back to his homeland in 1975 to become general manager of the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation before returning to Canada the next year.

Mr. Clarke did not become a Canadian citizen until 1981. Asked why he had delayed doing so, he said, “I was not keen on becoming a citizen of a society that regarded me as less than a human being.”

Mr. Clarke was made a member of the Order of Canada in 1998. Survivors include four daughters, Janice Clarke, Loretta Clarke, Darcy Ballantyne, and Jordan Clarke; and a son, Michael.

For original article, see

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