"George Elliott Clarke will enrich the Poet Laureate position with his many talents and accomplishments," said Councillor Michael Thompson (Ward 37 Scarborough Centre), upon the poet's appointment.
Indeed, Dr. Clarke pursued his post with vigor; he was tireless in creating events like the East End Poetry Festival and Beat Cafe on Nathan Phillips Square, and he worked with the City and partners like the Toronto Public Library, the AGO, Toronto Arts Services, Parks, Forestry & Recreation, East End Arts, Queen's Park, Toronto Museums, and others.
Born in Windsor, Nova Scotia in 1960, Dr. 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). Dr. 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. In 2014, Clarke traveled back and forth to Harvard University where he was the Visiting Associate Professor of Canadian Studies.
Among Dr. 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.
Dr. Clarke has been instrumental in promoting the work of writers of African descent; in 2002 he published, Odysseys Home: Mapping African-Canadian Literature followed by a second volume, Directions Home: Approaches to African-Canadian Literature. For more information on his works please click here.
"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 Dr. Clarke. "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."
Among Dr. Clarke's legacy projects are two Heritage Toronto plaques, one celebrating "people's poet" Raymond Souster (Willard Gardens Parkette, below) and the other celebrating the brief union of poets Gwendolyn MacEwen and Milton Acorn on Ward's Island (Lakeshore and Second Street). Dr. Clarke also wrote a poem to be inscribed in concrete in a refurbished Ramsden Park (Yonge Street at Crescent Road), due to be completed in late 2016. The Poet Laureate also teamed with the Toronto Public Library to create an interactive poetry map of the city uniting lines of verse with the places they reference.
Dr. 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.