World Literature in English
Austin Clarke
biography interview his work
Relevant Links & Further Studies  Background: 
The Caribbean Diaspora in Toronto
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  • Austin Clarke
    Clarke-- born in Barbados in 1934.  Left for Toronto in 1955, a year-long stay in Barbados in 1975.’
    Austin Clarke
                     was born in Barbados in 1934 and came to Canada to attend university in 1955. He has 
                     had a varied and distinguished career as a broadcaster, civil rights leader, and professor. He 
                     has published seven novels - including the "Toronto Trilogy", five short-story collections, 
                     including "when he was Free and Young and Used to Wear Silks", "When Women Rule", 
                     and, more recently, "There Are No Elders - and two memoirs, "Growing Up Stupid Under 
                     the Union Jack" and "A Passage Back Home". The Origin of Waves is his eighth novel. 
                   Austin Clarke: A Biography by Stella Algoo-Baksh was published in 1994 and "The Austin 
                     Clarke Reader", selected writings, in 1996.  Austin Clarke lives in Toronto.   


    Interview about his cultural and identity and "Griff!"

    Isn't it a fact that there are many Canadians who are also in and out of low-paying jobs, because they may lack motivation or formal education?  Who or what, then, is responsible for the tragic ending?

    68 [The protagonist in "Canadian Experience"], as you see from the flashback, from the discussion between his father and himself.  I would say that the immigrant to some extent must bear some responsibility for his plight in this country, but I must also say that the extent to which an immigrant fails or is perceived to be a failure, to my mind, is determined by the decency of the environment in which he finds himself.

     his Barbadian-Canadian identity
    It took me considerable time to decide to be a Canadian citizen—from 1955 until 1981—and at that time I was not going through any anxiousness of duality; I just was not Canadian; I was Barbadian.  That is not to say that, now that I am Barbadian by nature—the best of me is Barbadian; the best of my memories are Barbadian.  …the problems of duality arise each time there is a threat to my stability, each time there is a slur on a whole group of persons with whom I could easily identify, each time there is a  slur on a larger group of persons with whom I politically have to identify.Hutcheon p. 69

    "In Barbados, I breathe in the smell of the soil, I taste the scandals of the landscape.  The mud through which I trample and the sand that pours through my fingers are the roots and ruins I spoke about, ... It does tend to make my tentative accomplishments in this country empty, and at the same time, over-important and inflated."   Clarkes speaks about a lack of what he calls ruins and roots in the imigrants’ life, and how that has left them like Eliot’s hollow men, whose voices are reduced to meaningless whispering.

    Themes and Patterns of his work
    In many of his short stories and novels, Clarkes has dealt extensively with the lack of roots and ruins in the lives of immigrants in Canada, and the consequent damage to the psychological and emotional health of these men and women.
    (Harney 131)

    the overall pattern of his work the choice of topics shifts from peasant poverty in Barbados, in the earliest fiction, thence to immigrant experiences in Canada, and finally, the probing analysis of Canadian and Caribbean nationhood. ( Brown p.  8; see list of his work )

    the wife in "Griff"
    the wife was aware of the destructiveness in the character of the husband; but she was painted with a veneer of English gentility, part of which meant that you do not wash your linen in public.  She understood that she had a certain, strange loyalty to this man, and that he had to be presented, so far as her reaction to his idiosyncrasies was concerned, in a positive manner. (Hutcheon p.  95)


    "I'm Running for My Life"
    1. Towards the end of the story, May goes tearfully to her friend Gertrude to confess her "sin," about which she feels both scared and good.  Gertrude, on the other hand, claims that it is a sexual assault that May experiences.  What do you think?  What do you think Clarke wants to convey here?
    2. May's contradictory feelings toward her master:
    3. The master's feelings

    4.  appreciative of her, but neglectful p. 80-81;
       sexual desire for a colored woman 86
       sense of deficiency  p. 87
    5. Gertrude vs. May:
      1. May -- weak,  in need of help; relies on external supports such as frying pan and house slipper;
      2. Gertrude -- jumps into conclusion.  But is she totally wrong?

    6. The ironies in the scenes of sex and confession:

    Hutcheon, Linda & Marion Richmond, eds.  Other Solitudes: Canadian Multicultural Fictions. Toronto: Oxford UP,
    Brown, Lloyd W.  El Dorado and Paradise: Canada and the Caribbean in Austin Clarke's Fiction.  Parkersburg, Iowa: Caribbean Books, 1989.
    Harney, Stefano.  Nationalism and Identity: Culture and the Imagination in a Caribbean Diaspora.  London: Zed Books, 1996.

    Work by Austin Clarke