As a Canadian writer born and raised in Barbados Austin Clarke has been able to explore the difficult lives of Caribbean immigrants in Toronto from a unique perspective. His ninth novel, The Polished Hoe, won the Giller Prize for fiction in 2002, and the Regional Commonwealth Prize for best book in 2003. Clarke also published 6 collections of short stories and in 1999 was awarded the W.O. Mitchell Prize for producing an outstanding body of work and the Rogers Communication Writers Trust Prize (1998).
Born in 1934 and schooled in Barbados Clarke taught for a few years. He emigrated to Canada in 1955 to study at the University of Toronto. He left university to work as a journalist and broadcaster. A few years later Clarke published his first novels: Survivors of the crossing (1964), The Meeting Point (1967) and a collection of short stories, Among thistles and thorns (1965). He then taught creative writing at a number of American universities and was the cultural attaché to the Barbadian embassy in Washington. After he returned to Canada in 1977 he served on a number of community boards and continued to write about the West Indian immigrants in Canada and their struggles against racism, and economic exploitation. The Caribbean characters in The Meeting Point return in Storm of Fortune (1971) and The bigger light (1975) making these novels a trilogy. Clarke creates real characters through the use of authentic dialogue and dialects, believable situations and subtle psychology. Social and political criticism is the focus of The Prime Minister (1977) an exposé of corruption in a developing country inspired by his year back in Barbados as manager of the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation and an adviser to the prime minister.
Clarke is well-known for his many powerful short stories which deal with the adaptation of black people into white Canada. His second collection, When he was free and young and he used to wear silks (1971) was a great critical success. It was followed by four other volumes: When women rule (1985), Nine men who laughed (1986), In this city (1992), and There are no elders (1993). Here West Indian men and women are in conflict with each other and with the Canadian majority.
In his memoir of childhood in Barbados, Growing up stupid under the Union Jack (1980) Clarke explores colonial and postcolonial conditions in the British Empire. In this context he explores island politics in the novel, Proud empires (1988). The retrospective orientation continued into the 1990s as Clarke published The origin of waves (1997), an novel of memory and reunion. His next book, The question (1999), is considered one of his most accomplished novels next to The Polished Hoe.