George Elliot Clarke, poet, professor, novelist playwright, and now Parliamentary poet Laureate of Canada. His latest novel, just released is loosely based on the life of his father.

George Elliot Clarke, poet, professor, novelist playwright, and now Parliamentary poet Laureate of Canada. His latest novel, just released, is loosely based on the life of his father.
Photo Credit: CBC

BHM: George Elliot Clarke: The Motorcyclist (novel)

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George Elliot Clarke is a man of many words. Staunchly proud of his “africadian” roots in Nova Scotia, Clarke has gone from literary success to literary success.

His latest work is a novel loosely based on the life of his father. It’s called “The Motorcyclist”

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Known primarily as a poet, Clarke is in fact Canada’s recently nominated Parliamentary poet Laureate.  Playwright, literary critic, novelist, and Officer in the Order of Canada, he also won the 2001 Governor General’s Award for Poetry for his book, Execution Poems.

George Elliot Clarke’s newest novel is loosely based on the life of his father, an erudite railway worker in 1950’s Halifax who sought to break free of the preordeined lifestyle and mould.
George Elliot Clarke’s newest novel is loosely based on the life of his father, an erudite railway worker in 1950’s Halifax who sought to break free of the preordeined lifestyle and mould. © Harper Collins Canada

Now Toronto-based, and a professor of literature at the University of Toronto, he was until recently Toronto’s poet Laureate. With this appointment he becomes Canada’s seventh Parliamentary poet Laureate. duties include composing poetry for use in Parliament on occasions of state, sponsoring poetry readings, advising the parliamentary librarian on the library’s cultural collection and related duties at the request of the two Speakers or the librarian.

George Elliot Clarke
George Elliot Clarke © Dalhousie University

His latest novel however is based on the unique life of his father. A worker for the Canadian railway, his father was a dreamer who sought to break out of the societal constraints for a black man of the time.

Young, virile, and more educated than was the norm, he used his motorcycle as his escape from the limitation of his pre-determined place as a young black man in Canadian society.

A 1966 BMW R50, similar to the one owned by Clarke’s father, and by Carl Black, the protagonist in Clarke’s newest novel, The Motorcyclist*
A 1966 BMW R50, similar to the 1950’s era BMW owned by Clarke’s father, and by Carl Black, the protagonist in Clarke’s newest novel, The Motorcyclist* © Yesterdays, antique motorcycles

Clarke says this is the dilemma for his protagonist.  “Carl Black” must decide  on the insecure and uncertain future of the bohemian biker, or the steady and sure future as a worker on the railway.

Clarke says it would have been a difficult choice then for a man with ambition, although as he says, less so today as there are so many more role models for young black men now.

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