Toronto-based novelist Austin Clarke dead at 81

Austin Clarke, a multi-award winning author based in Toronto, has died at the age of 81. A family friend confirmed that he died early Sunday morning after a long illness.

The prolific Barbadian-born writer became a member of the Order of Canada in 1998 and won the Giller Prize in 2002 for his novel, The Polished Hoe. His most recent work, a memoir titled Membering, was published last year.

Born in St. James, Barbados, Clarke moved to Canada when he was 21 years old to attend the University of Toronto. He spent the majority of his life in Toronto, becoming a Canadian citizen in 1981, which he delayed due to racism he encountered in the city, according to his memoir.

In Membering, Clarke described his Toronto experience in the 1960s as living in an “atmosphere of great physical fear, of the expectation that a policeman might shoot me — bang-bang, you’re dead, dead — of being refused the renting of a basement room, or an apartment in a public building, that I would find myself standing noticeably longer than other customers at a counter in Eaton’s store, at the corner of Yonge and College Sts., that I might be thrown out, sometimes physically, from a restaurant, or a nightclub, as Oscar Peterson was, and face the embarrassment of being told by a barber that he does not cut niggers’ hair. This is my Toronto.”

Clarke is survived by four daughters and his ex-wife, Betty.

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