Clarke, a seventh-generation Canadian of African-American and Mi’kmaq heritage, takes over the position from Governor General’s Literary Award-winning poet Dionne Brand.
He is the fourth poet laureate of Toronto, following in the footsteps of Brand, Pier Giorgio di Cicco and Dennis Lee. The position was created in 2001.
Born in Windsor, N.S., Clarke coined the term “Africadian” to identify the black culture of Atlantic Canada and has been a promoter of black writers in his essays and criticism.
In 1999, he began teaching Canadian and African diasporic literature at University of Toronto, where he is currently the E.J. Pratt Professor of Canadian literature.
The author of poetry collections Saltwater Spirituals, Deeper Blues and Lush Dreams, Blue Exile, he also wrote the opera Beatrice Chancy about slavery in Nova Scotia in the 1800s and the verse-play Whylah Falls: The Play.
An officer of the Order of Canada, Clarke has received the Governor-General’s Award for Poetry (2001), the National Magazine Gold Medal for Poetry (2001) and the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Achievement Award (2004).
As poet laureate, Clarke will receive an annual honorarium of $10,000 for three years to serve as an ambassador championing local literary arts. He also plans to create a literary legacy project for the people of Toronto.
During her term as poet laureate, Brand created the website Poetry is public and worked with the Toronto public library to promote poetry.