George Elliott Clarke, left, and Steven Kummerfield (a.k.a. Stephen Brown) have worked together since 2005. Clarke says he was unaware until four months ago that Kummerfield killed an Indigenous woman in 1995. Clarke said Thursday he will not read any of Kummerfield's work at event later this month at the University of Regina. (Camelia Linta/Nimbus Publishing, Vallum)

Noted poet won’t read convicted killer’s work at Regina event

The contentious and heated dispute over a controversial literary event at the University of Regina has taken another turn.

George Elliott Clarke said Thursday he will not be reading any poetry by the convicted killer whose work Clarke has edited, at the Jan. 23 gathering.

Clarke, a former poet laureate of Canada, who identifies himself as a Nova Scotian of African American and Mi’kmaq descent, and the University of Regina have been under severe pressure to cancel the lecture because of Clarke’s professional relationship with Stephen Kummerfield.

Pamela George was beaten to death by Steven Kummerfield and Alex Ternowetsky outside Regina in April 1995. Kummerfield is now living in Mexico and publishing poetry under the name Stephen Brown. Renowned Canadian poet George Elliott Clarke has edited some of Kummerfield’s work, but says he won’t read any of it at a Jan. 23 lecture at the University of Regina. (CBC)

Kummerfield and a friend, Alex Ternowetsky, were convicted of manslaughter in the beating death of Pamela George, a 28-year-old Indigenous woman and mother of one, near the Regina airport in 1995.

Paroled after serving six and a half years, Kummerfield moved to Mexico, changed his name to Stephen Brown, and began sharing his poetry.

Since 2005, Clarke has edited poems and books published under both of Kummerfield’s names, and, Clarke says, he only found out about Kummerfield’s violent past four months ago.

During his 2016-2017 tenure as parliamentary poet laureate, Clarke highlighted two of Kummerfield/Brown’s works as “poems of the month” and likened him to Beat poets Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg.

Stephen Kummerfield and Alex Ternowetsky are seen leaving court in 1996 while on trial for the first-degree murder of Pamela George. They were eventually convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to six and a half years in prison. (CBC)

But Kummerfield and Ternowetsky are names many members of Canada’s Indigenous community will never forget.

“It’s still such an open wound in our community,” Misty Longman, manager of the University of Regina’s ta-tawaw Student Centre, told Lauren Krugel of The Canadian Press on Thursday.

Governor General Adrienne Clarkson presents the Governor General’s Literary Award for poetry to George Elliott Clarke during a ceremony at Rideau Hall official residence of the Governor General in Ottawa on November 14, 2001. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press

Earlier this week, the University of Regina again rejected a call to cancel the lecture and Clarke said he would not rule out reading any of Kummerfield’s work.

On Thursday, Clarke, who is now a professor of English at the University of Toronto, changed his mind, issuing this statement:

“Because I care passionately about violence against Indigenous women, with whom I am and have always been an ally, I would like to reassure all those concerned that I will not be citing the poetry of Mr. Kummerfield Brown …because of my sensitivity to the feelings of the survivors of his victim, Pamela George.”

To be continued.

With files from CBC News (Alex Soloducha, Bonnie Allen), CP (Lauen Krugel)

Categories: Indigenous, Society
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