The renowned writer will become the official face of literary Toronto.
Celebrated author and scholar George Elliott Clarke has been named Toronto’s fourth poet laureate, making him essentially the city’s literary ambassador. The honour is granted to a poet “whose work displays excellence,” and who has written on themes relevant to Toronto. Clarke takes over from Dionne Brand, who had served in the role since 2009.
Clarke, who is quoted in a press release as saying the poet laureate designation is a “magical public offering,” has previously been honoured by the City for his work in promoting race relations. He has devoted much of his career to the promotion of African-Canadian literature, particularly by writers from his native Nova Scotia. He was born in Windsor Plains to parents of African-Canadian and Mi’qmak heritage. He worked as a newspaper editor, social worker, and legislative researcher before taking a position at the University of Toronto, where he is currently the E.J. Pratt Professor of Canadian Literature.
Clarke’s seemingly endless distinctions include a National Magazine Gold Medal for Poetry (2001), appointment to the Order of Canada (2008), and eight honorary doctorates. As poet laureate, he will receive an annual honorarium of $10,000 for three years, and will have the opportunity to develop a legacy project. His predecessor, Brand, chose to promote poetry in the public realm by creating the website poetryispublic.ca, and by sharing the work of local artists in the Toronto’s public libraries.
Perhaps, if we’re lucky, Clarke will find some time to drop some verses with his pal Dennis Lee, who served as Toronto’s inaugural poet laureate in 2001.