Late Austin Clarke
26 June 2016
Austin Clarke died on Sunday, June 26, at the age of 81. Clarke was born in St. James, Barbados, on July 26, 1934. He moved to Canada in 1955 to attend the University of Toronto, but left to pursue a career in broadcasting. He became a leader in the North American civil rights movement before publishing his first novel, The Survivors of the Crossing, in 1964.
He went on to write more than two dozen books in various genres, including novels, nonfiction and poetry. His most recent work is a memoir, ‘Membering, which was published last year.
“Writing has been a mainstay and the most important aspect of my life,” Clarke said to CBC Books in 2015. “It shall continue this way until I die.”
Clarke is best known for his novel The Polished Hoe, which won the Scotiabank Giller Prize in 2002. The Polished Hoe is the story of Mary-Matilda, an elderly woman who confesses to a long-ago murder of a plantation owner, sharing her story over the course of a single night to a police officer. In addition to the Giller, the novel also won the 2003 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best Book Overall and the 2003 Trillium Book Award.
Clarke became a Canadian citizen in 1981, several years after becoming eligible to do so. He commented at the time, “I was not keen on becoming a citizen of a society that regarded me as less than a human being.” He felt that obtaining a Canadian passport meant “officially I would be a citizen, but I would not be desirable.”
He was named a member of the Order of Canada in 1998.