E.J. Pratt Professor
- Name: Professor George Elliott Clarke
- Position: E.J. Pratt Professor of Canadian Literature, held since 2003
- Affiliation: Department of English
- Education: PhD, Queen’s University
- Areas of Expertise: Canadian and African diasporic literature
- ENG352 Canadian Drama
- ENG389 Creative Writing
- – I & I (2008)
- – Trudeau: Long March, Shining Path (2007)
- – Illuminated Verses (2005)
- – George & Rue: A Novel (2004)
- – Québécité: A Jazz Fantasia in Three Cantos (2003)
- – Odysseys Home: Mapping African-Canadian Literature (2002)
- Major Awards & Honours
- 2009 Eric Hoffer Poetry Award for Blues and Bliss: The Poetry of George Elliot Clarke
- 2005 Trudeau Fellow Prize
- 2004 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Achievement Award
- 2001 Governor General's Award for Poetry
What makes a writer “black Canadian”?
Are black writers part of the history of Canadian literature, evidence of its literary métissage, or do they produce work so distinct from the traditional canon as to make them pioneers of something else? Given the diversity of Black Canada — which includes immigrant communities from Africa, Haiti and the West Indies — should Afro-Canadian literature be seen as a subset of Black American writing, or as a response to and commentary on it? And if ‘Africadian’ literature is sui generis, where does the writing of other minorities belong?
George Elliott Clarke, the E.J. Pratt Professor of Canadian Literature, is divided to the vein on these matters. A seventh-generation Canadian with African-American and Mi'kmaq Amerindian ancestry, Clarke approaches the questions with an educated ambivalence. As a scholar with an intimate and wide-ranging knowledge of Canadian literature, he is wary of facile distinctions between varieties of Canadian experience; yet, as a prize-winning poet, playwright, librettist and novelist, he has also wrestled with the conflicted identities which Africadian writers confront as they articulate ethnicity within a tradition that has often treated them like outsiders.
Whether writing as poet or professor, Clarke is always alive to the ways in which “for most minority entities, [a] measure of cultural nationalism — or group unity — has been a prize element of their steady existences as ‘communities’. The hazard of nationalism — its tendency to decay into fallacious myths, misty romanticisms, and blood-rite fascisms — persists... despite the globally swaddling and homogenizing embrace of IBM and Coca-Cola.” As a literary critic and as a creative writer, Clarke interrogates the idea of a national identity and unearths complexities within the seemingly straightforward concept of Canlit.
The E.J. Pratt Professor in Canadian Literature was established in 2003 by U of T alumna and adjunct faculty member Sonia Labatt. The chair honours the legacy of Canadian poet EJ Pratt (1882-1964) who earned his degrees at Victoria College and the University of Toronto, before teaching psychology and English there.
Story by Brendan de Caires
Photo: Camelia Linta