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Joseph Pivato’s AFRICADIAN ATLANTIC: ESSAYS ON GEORGE ELLIOT CLARKE Reviewed in CanText

Joseph Pivato is a Professor of English and Humanities at Athabasca and author of Contrasts: Comparative Essays on Italian-Canadian Writing (Guernica 1985), Echo: Essays on Other Literatures (Guernica 1994) and The Anthology of Italian-Canadian Writing (Guernica, 1998), to name a few. His latest work, Africadian Atlantic: Essays on George Elliott Clarke (Guernica 2012) has been reviewed in CanText: the Newsletter of the BCS Literature Group, along with two other Guernica titles (Maria Campbell: Essays On Her Works by Jolene Armstrong and Mary Melfi in Translation).

Jane Mattisson Ekstam (Associate Professor of English, Kristianstad University, Sweden) writes:

Africadian Atlantic is the first collection of essays to be devoted entirely to the work of poet, playwright and literary critic George Elliott Clarke. Organised into two parts, the first discusses the editor’s personal experience of Clarke and his work; the second provides commentary on the essays included in the collection. The essays demonstrate that one of Clarke’s major achievements is to democratize how we read the history of Canada, its languages and diverse cultures. Clarke has fostered Black literature in Canada not only through his own work and studies of other Black writers but by lecturing overseas on the historical experience of ethnic minorities in Canada.

In the first part of the collection, Pivato highlights Clarke’s critique of Black writing in Canada, his confrontation of ideological issues in post-colonial theory, his numerous provocative essays, including “Must all Blackness be American?”, the creativeness of the opera Beatrice Chancy, and the power of the verse play Whylah Falls. Pivato notes that he shares with Clarke a mission to promote Canadian ethnic minority writing in as well as beyond North America. Like Clarke, Pivato has travelled extensively, giving talks in a variety of countries. Both writers share a love of Italian stories.

Part two, “The Essays”, pays tribute to the diversity of Clarke’s writing both in terms of subject and genre. Ranging from topics as diverse as Clarke’s Execution Poems, gender and cultural memory in Beatrice Chancy, multi-vocality in his jazz opera Québécité, the intertextuality of diaspora and negritude in both his and Solano Trindade’s poetry, the collection celebrates one of the greatest critics of African-Canadian writing. Two chapters are of particular interest: Wayde Compton’s “‘Even the stars are temporal: The Historical Motion of George Elliott Clarke’s Saltwater Spirituals and Deeper Blues’”, which discusses Clarke’s reconstruction of the history and geography of his people, and Katherine Larson’s “Resistance from the Margin”, which examines the intertexts of Beatrice Chancy, offering valuable insights into the paratexts and peritexts that Clarke has constructed around his work.

The collection ends with a chapter by the editor. Entitled “Walking the Walk: George Elliott Clarke’s Creative Practice”, Pivato provides an excellent summary of Clarke’s exploration of genres and his engagement in the questions of post-colonial theory, particularly the nature of the writing of the African Diaspora and the place of African-Canadian literature in that global phenomenon. He concludes that “Clarke’s creative practice is informed by several factors: One is his constant restless reach for the best form for his text, the poetic language, and the performance. Second is his use of the oral traditions and language of Black communities in Canada. A third is his engagement with post-colonial theory and criticism” (316).

Pivato makes the important point that the essays in the collection challenge the increasingly narrow specialisation of the academic world by crossing disciplinary boundaries as they examine writing and music, writing and theatre performance and writing and adaptation (315). In so doing, they do justice to the enormous breadth and versatility of Clarke’s work. The volume is accompanied by a detailed bibliography of Clarke’s works, translations, screenplays, articles and essays in journals and books, articles about and interviews with Clarke, and theses on Clarke’s works. Surprisingly, however, there is no mention of book reviews or radio interviews. Nonetheless, Africadian Atlantic: Essays on George Elliott Clarke is an invaluable collection of essays about one of the most imaginative, creative and authoritative scholars on African-Canadian literature today. As the essays demonstrate, George Elliott Clarke’s poetry, plays, libretti and fiction are exemplary of the whole enterprise of African-Canadian literature; it is through his criticism and his own practice that Clarke has taught us how to read this important literature.

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