Mac honours Caribbean literary icons’ works

Austin Clarke

Louise ‘Miss Lou’ Bennett-Coverley
Miss LouThe works of two Caribbean-Canadian literary icons, Austin Clarke and the late Louise (Miss Lou) Bennett-Coverley, are being preserved at McMaster University.

McMaster librarian Vivian Lewis calls the works “two jewels of our Caribbean collection.”

At an event in Toronto recently to pay tribute to Clarke, a Commonwealth and Giller award-winner for his writings, Lewis said Clarke has been contributing his work to the library since the 1970s.

Austin Clarke“It’s quite a unique and remarkable thing for a writer, early in their career to think about the scholars that are going after them and worry about the record. Austin for decades has been worrying about the record and what scholars have and will have in the future,” said Lewis.

“I really can’t express enough the appreciation that McMaster and scholars across the world feel for the generosity that Austin has shown to them over many, many years,” she added.

She said his collection includes a “treasure trove” of manuscripts, letters, photographs, audio and video.

McMaster University Library and the Department of Cultural and English Studies last month hosted a lecture, Canada in Black Transnational Studies: Austin Clark, Affective Affiliations and the CBC, by Michael Bucknor, senior lecturer and head of the Department of Literature in English at the University of the West Indies.

Lewis said the audience comprised people of all ages and ethnicity from the campus and the community.

In this lecture, Bucknor works with papers from the Austin Clarke Archives at McMaster as well as the CBC Archives in Toronto to show that Clarke was not only central to the circle of London-based West Indian writers who have been heralded as the founders of Caribbean literature in the 1950’s and 1960’s but that he also created significant opportunities for them to publish and circulate their work through his networks in Canada.

Clarke left Barbados 60 years ago to attend the University of Toronto and graduated in 1959. He was a reporter in Timmins and Kirkland Lake before joining the CBC as a freelance producer and broadcaster.

While working in the media in Canada, his first novel was released in 1964, The Survivors of the Crossing.

In 1999, Clarke, 81, was appointed a member of the Order of Canada.

Miss Lou, who was born Sept. 7, 1919, and died July 26, 2006, was a Jamaican poet, folklorist, writer and educator.

Writing and performing her poems in Jamaican Patois or Creole, she was instrumental in having that dialect of the people be given literary recognition in its own right. She is at the heart of the Jamaican poetic tradition and influenced other popular Caribbean poets, including Linton Kwesi Johnson and Paul Keens-Douglas.