November 30, 2012
Respected Toronto-based poet, dramatist, novelist, and professor George Elliott Clarke has been appointed by City Council as Toronto’s fourth Poet Laureate.
“George Elliott Clarke will enrich the Poet Laureate position with his many talents and accomplishments,” said Councillor Michael Thompson (Ward 37 Scarborough Centre), Chair of the City’s Economic Development Committee. “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 has been nationally recognized by his appointment as an Officer of the Order of Canada.”
Born in Windsor, Nova Scotia in 1960, Mr. Clarke is 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). Mr. Clarke now lives in Toronto and began teaching Canadian and African diasporic literature in 1999 at University of Toronto, where he is currently the E.J. Pratt Professor of Canadian Literature.
Among Mr. Clarke’s many honours are the Governor-General’s Award for Poetry (2001), the National Magazine Gold Medal for Poetry (2001), the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Achievement Award (2004), the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Fellowship Prize (2005-08), the Dartmouth Book Award for Fiction (2006), the Eric Hoffer Book Award for Poetry (2009), appointment to the Order of Nova Scotia (2006), appointment to the Order of Canada at the rank of Officer (2008), and eight honorary doctorates.
Mr. Clarke has been instrumental in promoting the work of writers of African descent; in 2002 he published, Odysseys Home: Mapping African-Canadian Literature and he has just published a second volume, Directions Home: Approaches to African-Canadian Literature. “I look forward to the stimulating challenge of imagining words of beauty and emotion that might possibly mirror and echo the multicultural mosaic that is Toronto the Great,” said Mr. Clarke. “Our greatness is our global community, a mix of mixtures of peoples that is found nowhere else in the world that represents a dynamic, attractive, and inspiring cosmopolitanism. The post of Poet Laureate is a magical, public offering, and I am humbled to follow in the brilliant wake of Dionne Brand, Pier Giorgio di Cicco, and Dennis Lee.”
Mr. Clarke will receive an annual honorarium of $10,000 for three years to serve as Toronto’s literary ambassador championing local literary arts and wordsmiths. He will also create a literary legacy project for the people of Toronto.
Toronto’s Poet Laureate serves as the City’s literary ambassador. As an advocate for poetry, language and the arts, the Poet Laureate attends events across the city to promote and attract people to the literary world. The Poet Laureate’s mandate also includes the creation of a legacy project that will be unique to the individual.
The position of the Poet Laureate honours a Toronto poet whose work displays excellence and has written on themes that are of relevance to Torontonians.It was initiated in 2001 with Dennis Lee serving as Canada’s first municipal Poet Laureate. Dennis Lee embarked on an ambitious program that saw the 2008 unveiling of a monument in Queen’s Park of contemporary poet Al Purdy. Pier Giorgio di Cicco became the second Poet Laureate in 2004; he used the role to influence municipal policy in issues that address the urban aesthetic and its relationship to liveable and sustainable cities. Dionne Brand was named Toronto’s third Poet Laureate in 2009 and she dedicated herself to promoting poetry in the public realm with the website Poetry is Public and with temporary and permanent poetry displays in branches of the Toronto Public Library.
Mr. Clarke was nominated by a selection committee that included: Joanna Poblocka (Executive Director, League of Canadian Poets), Lillian Necakov-Avalos (Branch Head, Toronto Public Library), Andrew McAlorum (General Editor, Canadian Poetry Online), Marc Glassman (Director, This Is Not A Reading Series) and Toronto’s most recent Poet Laureate, Dionne Brand. The selection committee relied on its expertise and consultation with the community to select a candidate.