Council appoints George Elliott Clarke Toronto’s new Poet Laureate
‘Respected Toronto-based poet, dramatist, novelist and professor George Elliott Clarke has been appointed by City Council as Toronto’s fourth Poet Laureate.
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 BA Honours in English from the University of Waterloo (1984), an MA in English from Dalhousie University (1989) and a PhD in English from Queen’s University (1993). 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 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.
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. More information about his works is available at
“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 Clarke. “Our greatness is our global community – a mix of mixtures of peoples that is found nowhere else in the world and 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.”
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.
The position of Toronto’s Poet Laureate was initiated in 2001, with Dennis Lee serving as Canada’s first municipal Poet Laureate. Lee embarked on an ambitious program that saw the 2008 unveiling of a monument at 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. She dedicated herself to promoting poetry in the public realm with the website http://www.poetryispublic.ca/ and with temporary and permanent poetry displays in branches of the Toronto Public Library.
Clarke was nominated by a selection committee that included Brand, Joanna Poblocka (Executive Director, League of Canadian Poets), Lillian Necakov-Avalos (Branch Head, Toronto Public Library), Andrew McAlorum (General Editor, Canadian Poetry Online), and Marc Glassman (Director, This Is Not A Reading Series). The selection committee relied on its expertise and consultation with the community to select a candidate.
More information about the Toronto Poet Laureate and its program is available at http://www.toronto.ca/culture/poet_laureate.htm.