Poet Laureate George Elliott Clarke to give annual Kitty Lundy Memorial Lecture

George Elliott Clarke post
George Elliott Clarke - photo by Camelia Linta
George Elliott Clarke – photo by Camelia Linta

Poet Laureate of Toronto George Elliott Clarke will deliver the annual Kitty Lundy Memorial Lecture Monday looking at how the presence of “people of colour” in Northern climes, such as Canada, is perceived as aberrant or disruptive.

A writer and respected academic specialist of African-Canadian studies, Clarke’s talk, “Poles Apart? The ‘Great Black North’ in Canada and Sweden”, will take place Feb. 3 at 1pm in the Tribute Communities Recital Hall, Accolade East Building, Keele campus. A reception and book signing will follow the talk. Everyone is welcome to attend this Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies sponsored event.

The main program will include several readings of Clarke’s poems by history and communications student Kendra Campbell, English PhD candidate Asha Jeffers and humanities student Carmelita Marsden.

Clarke will argue there is a perception that “northern geography is so integrated popularly with peoples of “light” or “white” complexions that the presence of persons of hues exhibiting darker pigmentation is almost automatically perceived as aberrant or disruptive.”

This idea, he says, is that “persons originating from the ‘South’ hemisphere, with their skin colouration marking their visible ‘alien’ origin, are displaced, or, quite literally, out-of-place.” This has the effect of making them less welcome and less deserving of equal rights and equal opportunities to succeed and prosper.

Poster for Kitty Lundy Memorial LectureBy examining historical, literary and cultural expressions of black and non-black persons in Canada and Sweden, Clarke will tease out ideas about race that work powerfully to align “whiteness” and “northerness” in fundamental opposition to “people of colour”.

But the Nova Scotia-born Clarke has also identified a couple of ironies. First, the presence of Arctic peoples, who are not white, is overlooked even though they are adept at surviving and thriving in the far North. Second, specific histories of Black/African experience in northern geographies are “whited out”.

These omissions facilitate racism in Canada, Sweden, and other northern countries, while also denying Black citizens the ability to recognize themselves and their cultures as being ‘Nordic African’, says Clarke, the William Lyon Mackenzie King Visiting Associate Professor of Canadian Studies at Harvard University.

Clarke is also the E.J. Pratt Professor of Canadian Literature at the University of Toronto. He has received the Portia White Prize for Artistic Achievement (1988), the Governor-General’s Award for Poetry (2001), a National Magazine Gold Medal for Poetry (2001), the National Magazine Gold Medal for Poetry (2001), the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Achievement Award (2004) and the prestigious Trudeau Fellow Prize (2005) He was also appointment to the Order of Canada in 2008.

The annual Kitty Lundy Lecture honours the late Kitty Lundy, an admired educator of sociology who was associated with York’s former Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies from 1986 to 1989.  Wide-ranging in her accomplishments and interests, Lundy felt particular concern for the fields of education, occupations and women’s studies, and demonstrated a keen commitment to students pursuing their studies on a part-time basis. To honour her memory, the Lundy family established the Kitty Lundy Memorial Fund, which supports the annual lecture.

For registration, visit the Kitty Lundy Memorial Lecture Registration web page on the Kitty Lundy Memorial Lecture website.