Austin Clarke’s The Polished Hoe 20th anniversary edition to be released this fall

Austin Clarke

A special 20th anniversary edition of late Toronto writer Austin Clarke’s award-winning novel The Polished Hoe will be published this fall.

The new edition, published by Dundurn Press, will feature a foreword by Clarke’s former roommate, writer and professor Rinaldo Walcott, as well as a new cover commissioned from Toronto visual artist Shawn Skeir.

Skeir’s work is rooted in an urban expressionist style and influenced by his Canadian East Coast and African heritage.

The new edition features cover art by Toronto artist Shawn Skeir. (Dundurn Press)

First published in 2002, The Polished Hoe went on to win the Giller Prize, the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and the Trillium Book Award.

Acclaimed as one of Canada’s most important novels examining the Black experience, The Polished Hoe unravels over the course of 24 hours but spans the lifetime of one woman and the collective experience of a society informed by slavery.

According to Walcott: “The Polished Hoe remains an important work because it continues the difficult work of Black art that grapples with the still unfolding consequences of slavery for Black people.

“Clarke has left us a work — in fact bequeaths us a work — that demonstrates how fiction, in particular the novel, can do the necessary historical work of revealing and setting the conditions for coming to terms with the dreadful intimacies of life in the post-slavery Americas.”

The polished Hoe

Set on the post-colonial West Indian island of Bimshire in 1952, the novel follows the murder confession of Mary Mathilda, who claims to have killed the plantation owner for whom she has worked for more than 30 years — and whose mistress she has been for most of that time, including becoming the mother of his only son.

Through Mary’s recollections, Clarke sets out a deep meditation about the power of memory, the indomitable strength of the human spirit and the richness of Island culture.

Clarke’s powerful work continues to resonate today, Walcott noted, particularly given discussions around race and inequality in North America and beyond.

“From reading The Polished Hoe, people will glean the complicated history of gender, race, class and colour in the Americas,” Walcott said.

“They will learn how the legacy of enslavement of Black people continues to play itself out in the post-emancipation context where gender, class, colour and race structured a hierarchical society in which Black women remained firmly exposed to sexual abuse at the hands of white men in particular, but not exclusively so. But you will also glean how the children from those sexual liaisons come to constitute a complicated in-between between Black and white.”

Clarke, who died in 2016, was one of Canada’s foremost authors, whose work included 11 novels, several short-story collections, two collections of poetry and multiple memoirs — including ‘Membering, published by Dundurn a year before his death.

Born in Barbados, he moved to Canada in 1955 and worked as a journalist, professor and cultural attaché in Washington D.C., in addition to his writing.

Rinaldo Walcott

Walcott, who lived in the first-floor apartment of Clarke’s home during the period he was writing The Polished Hoe, recalls his friend’s singular focus on the novel — resulting in some mishaps, but also memorable moments.

“While writing The Polished Hoe, Clarke was often quite absent-minded — he flooded my apartment on more than one occasion,” Walcott said.

“He often did not eat for days at a time as he wrote, living off tea and martinis — and this led to him often having breakfast or dinner at The Grand Hotel [in downtown Toronto], where we hung out quite a bit.”

The 20th anniversary edition of The Polished Hoe will be available in paperback on Sept. 27, 2022.