Author fields questions on racism

Recently, York’s Canadian Writers in Person course and reading series presented poet and author George Elliott Clarke. Series organizer John Unrau of the English Department, Atkinson School of Arts & Letters, sent the following report of the evening.

On Feb.13 the Canadian Writers in Person course and reading series featured George Elliott Clarke, author of numerous volumes of poetry, the opera, Beatrice Chancy, and the verse novel Whylah Falls, one of five books chosen for Canadians to read on Canada Book Day.

On this occasion, Clarke read from his book, Execution Poems: The Black Acadian Tragedy of “George and Rue”, which received the Governor General”s Award for Poetry in 2001. The poems evoke the lives and deaths of two of Clarke”s cousins, George and Rufus Hamilton, who were executed by hanging in 1949 for the murder of a taxi driver in Fredericton, New Brunswick.

Besides reading from the poems and placing their writing in the context of his own life as a seventh-generation Canadian of African-American and Mi”qmak descent, the author answered many questions from a large and enthusiastic audience. Questions about racism came up frequently, and Clarke stated his view, illustrated with accounts of personal experiences, that racism was and is deeply ingrained in Canadian society. He considers racism in Canada more insidious and more difficult to counter than the American version, as it is subtle and almost always unspoken.

Clarke spent more than three-quarters of an hour after the reading signing books and speaking to individual members of the audience.

The Canadian Writers in Person Reading Series, which is free and open to the public, is also part of an introductory course on Canadian literature.