Writers Off the Page: 40 Years of TIFA

Austin Clarke: Sometimes, A Motherless Child

Episode Summary

Austin Clarke was a writer who was long fascinated by how we are both nurtured by and damaged by the communities that surround us - and most particularly how Caribbean and West Indian communities in mid-20th century Toronto both nurtured and damaged young Black men. In this reading, recorded on stage at the Harbourfront Reading Series in 1991, Clarke reads the final story from his collection, In This City, which presents the lives of Torontonians as they love, fight, explore, fear, intimidate, feel dispossessed, disobey and search for unpredictable moments of grace both within the confines of their communities but also in the cold and sometimes violent communities that lay beyond walls. The title of this story references a well-known Negro Spiritual, Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child, which laments the pain of life from a point of view (the slave) that was almost unheard of in the dominant culture which inspired it. The song later became significant as one of the Civil Rights Movement’s most moving anthems. Clarke’s retelling slyly reverses the roles and instead of a motherless child, a mother laments the loss of her son. And it can’t be ignored here that so many times when we see the way the poor are forced to interact with brutal figures of authority, violence is the response. The more things change, the more they stay the same. The audio for this episode is from In This City by Austin Clarke. Copyright © 1991 by Austin Clarke. Used with the permission of the Estate of Austin Clarke. It is also used with the permission of the Toronto International Writers Festival.

Episode Notes

Works by Austin Clarke

In This City

They Never Told Me and Other Stories

The Polished Hoe


Other Related Books or Materials

Odetta’s 1960 recording of “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child” (link opens a Youtube video)

Austin Clarke’s Harlem (link opens part of a CBC audio documentary produced by Austin Clarke in 1963 about the Civil Rights Movement)

Why Literary Critics Failed to Define and Understand Austin Clarke (link opens a National Post article from 2016)

Austin Clarke Quotes (link opens a Twitter account devoted to the quotes and other aspects of Clarke’s work)


About the Host

Novelist Randy Boyagoda is a professor of English at the University of Toronto and principal of St. Michael’s College, where he holds the Basilian Chair in Christianity, Arts, and Letters. He is the author of three novels: Original PrinBeggar's Feast, and Governor of the Northern Province. His fiction has been nominated for the Scotiabank Giller Prize (2006) and IMPAC Dublin Literary Prize (2012), and named a New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice Selection (2012 and 2019) and Globe and Mail Best Book (2018). He contributes essays, reviews, and opinions to publications including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, First Things, Commonweal, Harper’s, Financial Times (UK), Guardian, New Statesman, Globe and Mail, and National Post, in addition to appearing frequently on CBC Radio. He served as President of PEN Canada from 2015-2017.

Music is by Yuka


From the Archives

Writers Off the Page: 40 Years of TIFA is the first series associated with the Toronto Public Library’s multi-year digital initiative, From the Archives, which presents curated and digitized audio, video and other content from some of Canada’s biggest cultural institutions and organizations.

Thanks to the Toronto International Festival of Authors (TIFA) for allowing TPL access to their archives to feature some of the best-known writers in the world from moments in the past. Thanks as well to Library and Archives Canada for generously allowing TPL access to these archives.

Episode Transcription

Writers Off the Page: 40 Years of TIFA
Season 1, Episode 24

Austin Clarke: Sometimes, A Motherless Child




Randy Boyagoda (RB): Welcome to Writers Off the Page: 40 Years of TIFA produced by the Toronto Public Library. I'm Randy Boyagoda. In this episode, the late Austin Clarke reads from a work-in-progress, a short story whose events remain brutally relevant. 


Austin Clarke (AC): In all the time she has been living in this city, she never saw a white man stopped by a policeman. But then, of course, there had to be some stopped by the police. All couldn't be so much more better than Black people, she said. And she always felt the Black man was innocent, she assumed that. He had to be innocent, she figured, because he was Black. And she always thought that the policeman stopped him for no reason at all, that he was not breaking the law, that the police was merely testing him, and anticipating that he would break the law, showing the Black man who had power and pull. And the way she always saw the police hold his truncheon, as if it was a long penis in an everlasting erection, as if he was telling the Black man, "Mine is more bigger and more harder than yours."


RB: There’s this great scene in Noah Baumbach’s movie, The Squid and the Whale, when an aging writer of fading fame is trying to decide what he’s going to read at his next public event. He's asking an admiring student for her advice. The options are either to read from something new that he’s been working on, or read the story that made him famous. The way actor Jeff Bridges plays the character, you can tell he’s obviously using the question as a ploy to flirt with his student — but that conceals two other motives: First, laziness: he clearly doesn’t want to put in the effort of reading something fresh and raw. Second: fear: he doesn’t want to take a chance and be proven a has-been, especially when he can just turn back to something long assured to get applause. That movie scene came to mind as I listened to Austin Clarke read from a work-in-progress, to a Toronto audience, in 1991. By that point, Clarke was one of Canada’s most prominent writers, having for decades been publishing fiction and other writing in the country he immigrated to in the 1950s. His writing — often about the experience of Caribbean immigrants in various situations and predicaments, contemporary and historical, in Canada and in the islands — was crucial to helping our national imaginary perceive the contours of Canadian life and writing in an era beyond French and English. You’ll notice I didn’t just say “in the era of multiculturalism.” Clarke’s career was as much a leading cultural indicator of that now-established premise as he was himself skeptical and critical of its felt effects, particularly on and by immigrants of colour from places like the Caribbean. As he explored in his writing, such persons were as celebrated in well-intentioned principle by government policy and official culture as they were subjected to racialization, economic hardship, and the many effects of dislocation and relocation endemic to immigration itself. 

RB: But more than that, too. In the story you’re about to hear, about the slow, inexorable revelation of something tragic from the perspective of a woman who has long lived in Toronto, a mother, the mother of a young Black man, Clarke keeps you listening even as you begin to know, and dread, what’s going to happen. He does this with occasional moments of lightness and uplift, and more so by focusing your attention on the inner turmoil and bodily effects of this woman as she makes her way – physically and psychologically – towards the discovery of terrible news. That kind of balance is hard to achieve in a finished short story, never mind in a work-in-progress. With his many honorifics and well-known works, Clarke could have read and rested on his laurels, but he doesn’t. In his work and person, both, he was seized with some of the most difficult and raw realities of our many-contoured life. Because of that, he could and did read the signs and knew what needed to be said and heard. He was fearless in sharing his findings. 



AC: I don't know if anybody's here. I'm going to read you a short story, not yet finished, and see how you like it. Incidentally, the game is no score in the game. This is from a collection that is to be published soon. It's called, In This City


AC: “His mother remembered it was a big day at church on Sunday, and she rushed from work to get to the hairdresser before he closed. There were many women there, some of them had been there since early afternoon. It seemed that every woman in the place had an important church service on Sunday, or an important dance date. She was tired, too tired from a long day and she dosed off, as she sat in the chair. She could barely hear her pieces of... Sorry, I'm sorry. She could barely hear pieces of conversation around her. "I know a Jamaican man that the cops shoot. But that was five years ago, child. And in Montreal too, yeah. Not here. As a matter of fact, this particular Jamaican had a daughter who went to school with me, and I meet a Jamaican man, the Jamaican man who get killed and brutalized by the police." Those ladies you was having discussion with, do they know the Jamaican man? 


AC: When she opened her eyes, she realized that the hairdresser, Mr. Ezann, who was rubbing the grease... Who was rubbing the grease into her hair had been talking to. He turned now towards the ladies who were still with their heads over the square sinks, and to the others on the dryers, but he did not say anything to them. "How long is this going to take? I have to get home and see that boy. How is your boy? Bright as anything, doing well in school, some day he can crown my head with pride and glory, praise God. But apart from that sir, he's a boy. And that means he has his ways. How long you're going to take? Well, let's see. It's going on seven now. Comb, folding, give me a few minutes, we'll be done in no time. Not to worry, you'll be out in no time."


AC: And when his mother left a new woman, years taken from her appearance, years taken from her gate, years taken from her attitude to herself, and with her hair a bright mauve and shining, and smelling of the lotions and the smell of the hairdressing salon, it was 8:00 the night. But she was beautiful and looking young and feeling sprightly and full of life. And that was what she wanted for church on Sunday.


AC: The yellow police cruiser was stopped a few yards ahead of her, it was a dark night. She had looked up into the heavens a few moments ago, a few yards farther back, and smiled as she wandered and remembered that in this city, you don't see stars as you see stars back home, when you can become dizzy counting more than 300 in one raised head and spinning eyes. But when she saw the police cruiser, she became tense and the feeling of paranoia, which came to her each time she saw a police cruiser, came to her now. The black-clad police officers always brought a tense, angry, tightness into her chest. And the tightness moved swiftly into her guts. And without knowing, she always felt it was a Black man, or a Black woman, but more frequently a Black man who was stopped by the police.


AC: In all the time she has been living in this city, she never saw a white man stopped by a policeman. But then, of course, there had to be some stopped by the police. All couldn't be so much more better than Black people, she said. And she always felt the Black man was innocent, she assumed that. He had to be innocent, she figured, because he was Black. And she always thought that the policeman stopped him for no reason at all, that he was not breaking the law, that the police was merely testing him, and anticipating that he would break the law, showing the Black man who had power and pull. And the way she always saw the police hold his truncheon, as if it was a long penis in an everlasting erection, as if he was telling the Black man, "Mine is more bigger and more harder than yours."


AC: This is the way she always felt whenever she saw a police cruiser stop a Black man in a car. The night was darker now. She was walking on Davenport Road going towards Bloor Street and the cruiser was still too far from her for her to see clearly, but she could see that the man inside the cruiser was Black. She hurried her steps and when she drew almost abreast of the cruiser, it was still too dark for her to see the man's face. The roof light inside the cruiser was not on, but she would bet her bottom dollar that it was a Black man, a Black youth, a Black child. Her stomach became tight. There were two policemen. She remembered the argument in the hairdressing salon, two or three, there was two and they were standing beside a car. It was a lovely car.


AC: She had seen cars like this one all over the ravine where she worked in a mansion. It was a beautiful car. Many times standing up the cold, large picture window looking out into the blank, white afternoons with the music from the Buffalo Radio Station behind her. She had admired these beautiful cars coming and going along the street in front of the large house. This was a beautiful car like those. It was gleaming. It was white and it blended well with the snow that was now falling. And she wondered why the license number plate did not contain numbers like other license number plates. All it said was B-L-U-E. What a strange license to have, blue? And she was feeling so good just a few moments ago. She understood the blues, but what was this blue? He must be in a blue mood. What a strange license to have B-L-E-U.


AC: But she laughed to herself. She herself liked the blues, rhythm and blues. She stood up to investigate. She was sure there was someone in the back of the cruiser. She had just passed the show window of Mercedes Benz when the bright color of mauve was reflecting back to her and showed her bathed and professionally coiffured and hennaed, it startled her. The color did. For the incident of the reflection, she could not move. She stood up. She looked at herself in the reflection, she leaned her head slightly to the right and then to the left, stood erect before the show window and could see not only her reflection, but a salesman in the window looking at her with his right thumb raised in approval.


AC: He had smiled and she had smiled. And then she had moved on after having stolen a last glance at herself. This was before she saw the police cruiser. And when she saw it, all of that gaiety in the reflection and the show window evaporated. She was beside the cruiser now. The two policemen were walking away from the cruiser going to the white BMW and she caught up with them. She stopped three feet from the policemen, "keep moving ma'am." She wondered who was in the dark back seat of the cruiser and she thought of the Jamaican man, the poor man and his two fatherless girl children. They said that when the policeman burst in the house that Sunday afternoon just before the peas and rice were dish and serve and the shot was fired, his head burst open just like when you drop a ripe watermelon from a certain height. They said his head burst open, clean, clean, clean. "Why are you all always bothering Black people? Why you all don't go and try to catch the real criminals in this city?" "None of your business ma'am." "Who say it isn't none of my business? I pay taxes, I obey the law. I have a right to ask you this question young man." "Move on lady or I arrest you for obstruction." "Obstruction. Who I obstructing?" "What did you say?" She stood her ground but she was not so stupid as to repeat what she had said.


AC: "Lord, look at this," she said under her breath. She felt she dared not pray, appeal, or talk to her God aloud with the policeman to hear. And the policeman who spoke to her was about to forget about her when she started up again. "I hope you not taking advantage of that poor boy you got in that cruiser and I hope you read him his rights and I hope he has a good lawyer to defend him. Oh God if it was me, I would surely lodge a complaint against the two of you bastards with the human rights commission and complain and tell this policeman to please kiss my... " "Lady," the policeman knew there was something said, although he did not know what was said. He knew there was this bond and agreement which he could not break. And he became uncomfortable and nervous and felt threatened as if somebody, this woman standing in front of him with nothing in her hands, save her handbag and a plastic bag full of leftover roast beef was going to take his life from him. And he rested his hand on the side of his waist where he had his gun.


AC: She took a last glance at the beautiful car and shook her head with some disappointment that she could not see through the heavy tint of the glass to make out the person inside and satisfy her prejudice that it had to be a young Black man. But she was not going to give up so easily. So she leaned over the hood of the car, being careful not to smear its sheen, almost feeling the cold of the glass as she peered through the obstructing glass. Inside, on the passenger side, was a young man. She could not see that much easily enough. Sorry, I read that wrong. She could see that much easily enough, but she wanted to be sure, to be certain that this tinted glass was not playing tricks to the young man's color. Perhaps he was Black, and this tint was changing his color [laughter] She could touch the glass now and feel the coldness of it, and at the same time, the comfort and heat from the engine even though it was turned off. She stared and saw him. It was a young man, a young white man.


AC: And the man inside the car, feeling his own shame for his predicament, held his head aside as if he thought his profile would hide the identity of his face from this malicious woman whom he had seen five minutes before. He did not know her, could not remember even ever seeing the woman with her hair dyed mauve and sticking up in the air as this woman's hair was doing in the tricky changing light caused by the passing cars. He held his face in the profile against her staring eyes and felt the curiosity in her eyes, and thought he could feel the love and sadness in her manner. If he was not handcuffed behind his back, he would push the door open and invite her in. But what will he say to her? Perhaps he would call out for help. She moved away, walking backwards for the first few steps. And the smallness of his space and the fit of the manacles made the car seat large, and it became larger and embraced him in the growing space of his temporary imprisonment. She was walking backwards to get a last glimpse of the license plate B-L-U-E, which still make her smile at its eccentricity. And when she walked past the police cruiser, her body flinched.


AC: And the tightness that sometimes deliberately put her body into to prevent the cold... and the tightness that sometimes she deliberately put her body into to prevent the cold from climbing all over her bones came to her as she moved beside the cruiser. She could smell no similar smell of polish as she had done standing beside the beautiful car. She could sense no powerful fragrance of leather in the interior, as she had surmised with the white car named B-L-U-E. And she could feel no one warmth from the engine of the police cruiser as she relished in that short moment when her curiosity challenged her wisdom. The police cruiser was cruel and ugly and tense and made her feel guilty. And in this shame, in this surrender of self-control, she walked away not being able to tell should she be asked, "What was the color of the cruiser?" But she made a note of the writing on its side, Division 52. She would never forget that number. And she amused herself heading to the next bus stop. And if no bus came to rescue her from the knowing call to the subway station that day, that if she was a gambling woman, she would play combinations of 52 in tomorrow's Lotto 49. Time and not the consequences nor the cause of his presence here this evening where he was was heavy upon BJ's nerves.


AC: He paced up and down with various thoughts entering his head and his panic and isolation made the space much, much larger, so that he was buried in its vastness and the time and the consequence... What it would be, and the calls became real, and he could see his life, his entire life in the three short hours that had passed. All these things passed through his mind. And for each of them, he had no solution. He paced up and down, not having enough length in the square space, to make his pacing more dramatic and less of pathos. And when he again realized the restriction of the square space, his mind bounded backwards to a time which he had almost wiped from his memory, recalling a time when he spent four hours in this same police station in another cell, alone and not knowing really why he had been locked up, not having had a charge made against him, not having had a policeman enter the cell and interrogate him about the alleged theft of a kid's bicycle that afternoon in August when he and three other kids were horsing around near the corner grocery store trying to raise enough quarters to buy ice cream when his mother was at the work, when this other kid came wobbly on his bicycle, his first, a present his mother had given him for Christmas past. And one of the other three kids took the bike playfully from the little kid, and the little kid started to cry. And run home with tears in his eyes, and told his mother and his father.


AC: And his father returned with his sun burnt arms bristling with black hairs and chest like a barrel covered with the skin of an animal, with hairs which punch from under a nylon undershirt, and with his underpants showing just above the waist of his black trousers. When the kid pointed at the colored fellow dad, "The colored fellow is who took my bike". And all hell broke loose, with mamma mias spewing all over the road as if it was still Christmas and hails was falling. And the cops came screaming down the Avenue going against the pointing of the white arrow, two car loads of them to solve this small neighborhood kid's prank. "I didn't mean nothing". And slam "Into the cruiser nigger. Into the god damn cruiser you god damn nigger". Mamma mia and BJ not understanding the various languages and accent being used against him, no explanation in the eyes of the man who own the peddling grocery, no explanation from his three friends who did not know Italian and Greek, and were no longer within earshot and speaking distance. No understanding from the father with his chest buried in black hairs, ripping the air with gesture which BJ thought at first were karate-chops, but later knew their meaning even though he knew no Italian and Greek.


AC: And no understanding from the four cops who descended armed and sunburnt like the father to solve this serious crime, "Get, god darn it, get into the god damn cruiser. No, not in the god damn front seat, in the fucking back where you's belong." And they took him down, and did not book him, and put him in a nice large cell, large enough for his age, "Bigger god damn it nigger than the piss small room you and your god damn mother lives in you fucking west Indians." And they left him there to stew and to mend his thieving ways. And then hours later when the time for his supper of plain rice and boiled salt fish had come and gone, the truth was known, and the kind sergeant came with a styrofoam cup of steaming coffee. "Have a cup, come now, have a cup". And then said, "A little mistake. If you can understand what I mean, you being such a nice little fellow to know these things a little god damn mistake, and you happen to be the god damn unlucky one. So beat it kid and don't let me lay my god damn eyes on you again. Get!".


AC: Too young to know what he had done, not knowing what he had done, not knowing what the policeman in the cruiser had done, not knowing the exact shape of his fate this time, but wise enough to know that he was going to have some fate, BJ paced and paced. And then perhaps because of his Muslim sense of faith he stopped walking up and down, he decided not to worry, "Let the motherfuckers come". He said within his heart, cowed by the small square space, and by his history. And then he worked it out in detail and with the logic he was capable of, but with... But which in the circumstances of the steel surrounding him in the four small... In the four small walls of impatience and of no restraint, the smell of vomit and of all urine in the circumstances of an unclear head, he had permitted to elude and overwhelm him. But when he had worked out his plan he lit a cigarette, all that they had left him. And in his mind for his mind was clean and not touched by his circumstance, he took out the long plane record and could see his fingers ease it out of the jacket and put it on his stereo and remain standing listening to the words of Malcolm X's speech The Ballot or the Bullet.


AC: He was asleep standing before the introduction of Malcolm X was finished. And he was stirred from his reverie by the opening of the door and walked out into the dark cold parking lot to his car now buried and made invisible by the falling snow. Marco was somewhere else in another cell held until his parents could come. Two men walked beside him, they were not in uniform, he recognized his car for the snow had not touched blue, B-L-U-E on the license plate. And he made the gesture to go to it even though he did not have the keys, and he was corrected, "We are going for a little drive". And he was put into the back of the cruiser left alone to himself behind the plastic protector, thick as brick, strong as steel, and with his two hands free. The blue unmarked cruiser drove off into the white pouring quiet.


AC: From the top of the street near Bathurst she could see the red lights, they were worrying. They scared her so much just to see them, but they give her the impression they were making great noise and that the red lights were silencers of that noise. She could see the four police cruisers parked in the middle of the road and one at the side. She could see the large red ugly vehicle of the fire department. She could see a smaller but equally ugly white painted ambulance. And from the distance, she was turning into the smaller street where she lived, she could see the road filled with people.


AC: People were leaving doors open and running and passing her as she walked, heading in the direction of the spinning red lights on top of the police cruisers, and the fire department truck, and the ambulance. She had never witnessed a fire of this big-ness in this city before and she walked as fast as she could in the deep sliding snow to reach the site. The road became more crowded when another police vehicle, a small panel type truck marked tactical squad forced itself into the road from the other end of the street. She was sure now that someone was holding someone hostage. She had watched many of these scenes every day on the soap opera shows in the mansion where she worked. And tickled by the transformation of a movie, into a slice of her real life, she hastened her stride, but without success for the snow was too deep. She felt the excitement the spinning red lights give off, the curiosity of staring at these kinds of lights on a highway ahead of you, and she passed each house from one end to the next, now as long as a block, her blood thickening, and not once through her mind past the thought of "Who's sick?". And she did not once consider her neighbors nor the landlord, in this absent thought of compassion, it was the excitement she was heading to.


AC: People could see, people, she could see them now, people were being kept back behind a ribbon of yellow plastic, and one policeman stood guarding the yellow plastic ribbon, which measured the area round one house and disappeared out of sight, perhaps down a lane or the thick and walkable space between two houses. And this ribbon reminded her of birthday parties back home, and on Christmas morning, and once when she was no longer a child taken by her mother to an opening of something where they had a long ribbon like this before the entrance. On that occasion, the vicar of her church cut the ribbon with a scissors. Her excitement now... Her excitement was now in her blood and with her blood hot she was no longer recognizing things, and landmarks, and the shape of the uneven concrete steps the landlord had built to save money, and that caused her to slip even in the summer. She was forcing herself against these strangers to reach the entrance. And she could see the splotches and the drying small pools, the spots taking some time to be registered in her excitement as blood. She could see the blood on the steps and blood along the narrow lane, and the lane became difficult to see as it went beside the house on the left. A dog walked out as if it was drunk.


AC: She could see policemen inside the room collecting things, some of which they were already bringing out, and she could see the attendants from the ambulance arranging something heavy on a stretcher, she could see the clothes being brought out, she could see the stereo equipment, speakers, CD player, amplifier and the books, and the small bible. She wondered who lived here. She could see the books, books always interested him, and then she realized she was thinking of her son, books always interested him. And one book she saw was the holy Quran. She wondered if this was the wrong address. She could see many policemen inside the room at the back near the door to her kitchen walking round the small space, nervous and silent. The street outside was silent too, no one was talking. But she could hear their anger and their resentment and their hatred. She was beginning to learn how to listen to this kind of silence. And then there was a sound, a sound very similar to a surprise or to shock, or even to the satisfaction that what you're about to see is the shock, but that you're not prepared for it, they were bringing a body out.


AC: Two ambulance attendants carried the stretcher which had wheels like a bier of a coffin, but which had to be lifted part of the journey, the short journey from the back of the house down the two short cement steps which the landlord had not got around to, a little way to the right of the rear door, and to the ambulance after going through the thin lane down two more steps and up the three steps of the basement apartment front door. As they lifted it up the steps, the wind which was cold and strong blew the cloth off the body of the corpse. A cry went through the people, it was a youth. No older than 16 or 17 or 18, a Black youth with a close trim haircut, dressed in a black woolen jersey, black slacks, black socks and black shoes. And when the wind had taken the blanket on its short wild, curtsy to the wind and to the night the people made that sound again like a gigantic taking in of wind.


AC: She could see it too. And she saw the head, and it was out of shape from something that had hit it, disfigured. And the blood was covering the face. And the stretcher was covered in thick blood. And the black clothes the youth was dressed in, were red now, more than black.


AC: The blood seemed to have its own mind, and disfiguring disposition. And it seemed to drip and mark the journey from the room at the back of the basement apartment. Through the room, through the small back yard, through the lane, and out into the cold wind. It looked as if a cannon had struck the head, and the head had exploded, and had been cut into pieces like a watermelon that had slipped out of the hands. To her, it seemed as if the brains of the young man were coming through his mouth. As if his eyes were lost again, against the impact of the bullet. To her, it looked like a watermelon that was smashed by the wheels of a car. It was too much. It was too cold. It was too brutal. It was too cruel, and there was too much blood. Worse than the American soap opera she had watched, earlier in the afternoon. "BJ. BJ!" It was somebody screaming. She did not know the voice, but she looked around in this crowd of people, only one of whom she knew, the landlord, and then she saw the owner of the voice.


AC: It was a young man, there were tears in the young man's eyes. He was dressed in blue jeans, and he had something wrong with his right hand or his right side, for he was doing something with his body as if he had a nervous habit, like a tic, hitting his hand against his thigh. He looked Portuguese to her, but she did not know him. "BJ fa... " It was Marco. It was too much. It was to sad. It was too brutal. It was too cruel, and there was too much blood. It was worse than American television about detectives. And she stood in the soaked socks she wore with her pantyhose and felt the wetness in her boots, and could feel the cold wetness on her face, and the stiffness in the effort of her arms raised towards the heaven, but reaching only just above her shoulders. With no words coming to her assistance, and with the weight of her sorrow lightened by the cold, and not quite able to come out. Thank you.





RANDY: Austin Clarke was born in Saint James, Barbados in 1934, and raised by a single mother who worked as a laundress. A track star and superb student, he attended the island’s top schools and gained admission to elite universities in the United Kingdom. Circumstances led him instead to Canada, where he studied at Trinity College, University of Toronto, in the 1950s. Thereafter, he pursued a career as a writer while also working for the CBC as a journalist, teaching at a series of universities including Yale, Brandeis, and Duke, and participating in politics and civic life and civil rights activism, in the United States, Canada, and Barbados. Clarke’s 2002 novel The Polished Hoe, one of ten that he published in addition to a series of memoirs and short story collections, won both the Scotiabank Giller Prize and the Commonwealth Writers Prize. Austin Clarke was named to the Order of Canada in 2008 and died, aged 81, in 2016.


Thanks to the Estate of Austin Clarke for allowing us permission to use the audio for this episode. And thanks, as always, to the Toronto International Festival of Authors for allowing us access to their archives. Find out more at FestivalOfAuthors.ca 




Writers Off the Page: 40 Years of TIFA is a year-long podcast series that celebrates 40 years of the Toronto International Festival of Authors. It's produced by the Toronto Public Library. The Executive Producer is Gregory McCormick. This episode was produced by Gregory McCormick and me, Randy Boyagoda, with technical support from George Panayotou and Michelle De Marco, marketing support from Tanya Oleksuik, and research support from Marcella van Run.


For more about Writers Off the Page: 40 Years of TIFA, visit writersoffthepage.ca where you will find links to the books mentioned in each episode and links to other relevant materials in TPL’s collections. For all of Toronto Public Library's podcasts series, check out tpl.ca/podcasts.


Music is by YUKA.


I'm Randy Boyagoda and we'll be back soon with another episode of Writers Off the Page: 40 Years of TIFA.