Austin C. Clarke: A Biography

Austin C. Clarke: A Biography

Austin C. Clarke: A Biography

Austin C. Clarke: A Biography

Excerpt

It took me a long time to discover Austin Clarke. Like my peers from the early post-war generations in the English-speaking Caribbean, I was nurtured throughout my schooling on the literature of Britain, and I learned dutifully to regard the blossoming art of my native land with an appropriate degree of aloofness and disdain. Only one of my teachers ever tried to break my resolve: James Lee Wah, who taught English literature in the Sixth Form, was a model of patience as he dedicated himself to this task. And it was largely out of a sense of duty to him -- for he was a kind and likeable man -- that I deigned to sample the fiction of the British Caribbean, though not without a vague sense of some loss of virtue in reading works that I regarded as beyond the pale. Growing maturity and social awareness were shortly to convince me of the error of my ways but even by 1969 -- the year in which I left Trinidad for Canada -- I had not yet encountered Clarke, for he had just recently begun to establish himself as a writer and was not well known across the Caribbean. It was only in 1984 that I became acquainted with his writing, in the shape of his Growing Up Stupid Under the Union Jack. As I read this autobiographical account of his early life, I laughed -- and cried -- with him at the joys and sorrows of growing up in a society still bearing the strong imprint of colonialism, because I found that in many ways he was writing about me. Stirred, I moved on to read his other works, and I soon felt an urge to know more about him both as a writer and as a person.

When I met Clarke for the first time in the summer of 1987 I was struck at once by his generosity and thoughtfulness. He had been laid low by a severe cold and at the time of my arrival at his town house on McGill Street he was barely able to speak. Yet, within two days, and with only the faintest signs of improvement in his health, he offered to begin the interview we had arranged, since -- as he explained -- he realized I had "spent a lot of time and money coming to Toronto" to talk with him. Then, for about a week, he sat with . . .

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