Photos by Hamlin Grange
~~This is an abbreviated version of a 2013 post~~
What’s an introvert like me doing at a party with famous authors?
Feeling a bit lost among strangers, is what. The program book for the prestigious International Festival of Authors at Harbourfront in Toronto reveals names like Margaret Atwood, Joseph Boyden and Margaret Drabble.
I, meanwhile, am new to this author thing: my first book, “A Good Home” was only recently released. Hamlin Grange and our friend Leonie McKnight-Copeland accompany me. As usual, several people recognize Hamlin from his frequent appearances on CBC Television where he was a news anchor and journalist.
But none of us knows anyone here.
I once possessed the fine skill of mixing and mingling with celebrities. I’ve been away from that world for such a long time since the accident, I’ve forgotten how.
I see a young woman who looks as shy as me, and I say a warm hello. Other people surround her, so I move on.
A relaxed-looking man greets us.
He introduces himself: Attila Berki, associate publisher of Quill and Quire magazine. He says the young woman I greeted is Eleanor Catton, whose book, The Luminaries, just won the Man Booker Prize.
I recognize another famous author, but he’s wearing someone else’s name tag. Despite the disguise, he too is surrounded.
“Come say hello to Austin,” Hamlin says, returning to my side. “He’s across the room.” I am thrilled to see Austin Clarke, whom I know. In fact, Austin is one of my heroes. Born in the Caribbean, the man and his books are known for ‘speaking truth to power’ about racism in our society.
The literary giant — winner of the Giller Prize and other prestigious honours — sits by himself in the shadows, removed, yet regal. “Like a sort of eminence grise?” I tease him.
“Or the lion of Judah,” he offers, laughing softly. I slip my arm through his and we laugh together companionably.
Austin’s new book of poetry, Where the Sun Shines Best, is nominated for a Governor General’s Literary Award, and he’s at work on his memoirs.
As we sit together, looking out at the crowd, I, the brand-new author, am surprised but happy to have this famous Canadian man of letters all to myself.
We chat, but not about books. Austin’s a famously great cook, and I’m infamously not. We both use canes to walk around. He claims his cane is superior to mine; I reluctantly, laughingly, agree. (See above photo, extreme right.)
A waiter approaches. He’s a fan of Austin’s Giller-winning novel, The Polished Hoe, and he greets Austin as if meeting a head of state. He almost-kneels, almost-reverently, to shake Austin’s hand.
Hamlin and Leonie join us, and we enjoy our time together. No-one else approaches, and I realize that this roomful of mostly younger or foreign authors probably does not realize that the elderly black man with the shoulder-length grey dreadlocks is Austin Clarke, one of Canada’s greatest writers.
Austin Clarke died yesterday. His recently completed memoir is titled ‘Membering.
Thank you, Austin, for paving the way.
Rest in peace.
80 thoughts on “Remembering Austin”
I used to think I liked parties. Took me years to realise I didn’t.
How lovely for you to meet such an eminent author, a precious memory of him.
It really is, K. Meeting up with Austin like that was my reward for pretending to be brave and cool when I was feeling completely out of my element.
Grateful we have ‘Membering’ to relish in the precious memories and being of a great Canadian writer.
Well said, Ann! Thanks for your comment.
What a beautiful tribute. Thanks for sharing. 🙂
And I thank you for your kind response, Cathleen.
You, are remarkable.
Who, me? I’m just muddling along, or “strimping” as my husband calls it. (You’ll have to read my book to see the context! Smile…) thank you, Cindy.
Reblogged this on Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life and commented:
Cynthia Reyes with a tribute to Austin Clarke Born in the Caribbean, the man and his books are known for ‘speaking truth to power’ about racism in our society. The literary giant — winner of the Giller Prize and other prestigious honours died yesterday.
I’m honoured, Sally! Thank you.
What a beautiful tribute to Mr. Clarke. Truthfully I too have never read any of his work but I will now.
Isn’t it funny how the good Lord works. He is always watching.
Well said. Thanks for dropping in and leaving a comment!
I would feel a little intimidated by such great names too! Well done you 🙂
Thank you! I’m sorry there’s so much turmoil facing both Scotland and the UK right now. Your prime minister is an impressive woman.
Thank you, Mary, and for visiting my blog too.
Beautiful tribute Cynthia to a literary giant. RIP Austin.
How lovely of you to respond. Thank you and welcome to my blog!
Just marvellous, Cynthia. What an amazing photo of you with the legendary Austin Clarke. Oh, to be in the same room as Margaret Atwood! You are so modest. But I do have a tiny inkling of how daunting occasions can be. As a very small and insignificant fish in a large pool, I always feel rather overwhelmed when ‘names’ from the garden world are kind enough to visit my garden. The mixture of awe and pride is a peculiar experience.
You said it well, Kate. And your garden must be outstanding for names from the gardening world and others to tour it. Congrats.
You’re very kind but I must say that this garden is almost an entity in its own right, it is notable for being simply being very different from what people are used to here.
Rest in Peace Austin. A wonderful tribute to a great man Cynthia. I am pleased you found someone so lovely to sit with! I dislike parties and much prefer to people-watch from the sidelines.
Have you read ‘The Luminaries’? It took me ages to get into it but once in, I was hooked. An amazing book, especially when ones realises how young Catton was when she wrote it.
As always, Hamlin’s photos are excellent!
Thanks, Clare. I got a good way into The Luminaries and perhaps now I’ll try to finish it. You’re right — it is hard to believe she wrote it at such a young age. Remarkable insight and talent.
I think I struggled with it until I was about half the way through. I found all the different characters/different storylines confusing and had to keep referring back. Eventually the fog began to lift and everything started to make sense!
As you know, I have a problem with sorting and referencing and I found it too much work. Maybe later when I feel stronger, I’ll give it another try.
It was hard work and I don’t have the problems you have!
I don’t know Austin’s work but will look for it–I’m sorry you lost someone who meant so much to you. And I completely understand your feelings about parties . . .
Thank you, Kerry. Austin meant a lot to many people, some of whom were writers and some not.
Wonderful tribute to Austin Clarke. ‘Membering is next on my must-read list. I never met him but miss him already. Thank you for ‘membering him here.
Canada has produced some remarkable writers. Each one stretches the boundaries a bit, helps us to see over the walls and to push ourselves even more. Austin did that.
So many authors to check out! Wonderful post.
Thank you, Laurie.
What a lovely picture of you and Austin. RIP, Austin.
Thanks, Jill. RIP Austin, indeed.
Your passion comes out in each post Cynthia. This is a lovely tribute to an author I must admit to not knowing. You do so well at creating interest (or sharing your passion?) when you highlight people and places that you enjoy. Kudos!
Thank you, Brad. That is a really kind compliment. I’m so pleased when I shine the light on others that I fear it is entirely a selfish pursuit! (smile) Austin was a fabulous talent.
Wonderful that it brings you satisfaction too. Then it’s a blessing for all.
A fitting homage to a wonderful writer.
You look m.a.r.v.e.l.o.u.s. 🙂
I’m better at parties then when I was younger, but still find it hard being surrounded by people I don’t know.
Thank you. Some people are good at parties, with people known and unknown. I’m not!
Sigh. I know.
Austin was a “one of kind”, a story teller extra-ordinare who had sense of mischief and fun. His eyes would twinkle when he would recount episodes/incidents, which were not necessarily pleasant. He loved to cook and so after he published “pigs tail and breadfruit” he offered to prepare a meal at my home. I met him in Kensington Market and we bought the various ingredients for the meal. When we got to my home, the first thing on the agenda was the preparation of martinis so Austin could have his drink of choice while cooking. I became the scullion maid peeling onions, chopping okras, shifting cornmeal, crushing garlic and cleaning up constantly so that there would be counter space for Austin to prepare coucocu, oxtail, cornbread, etc. When the meal was ready, Austin then labeled every dish, using his fountain pen and writing with a penmanship of earlier times. He regaled the dinner guests with stories which made some of us laugh to tears. Such fond memories of a friend, colleague, writer and great Canadian.
A wonderful memory of a unique soul. Kamala-Jean, I am thrilled that you shared this with us. Thank you!
What a beautiful write up and interesting person Austin must have been!! Thank you for sharing! Tina
Thanks, Tina. Austin was a singular talent and human being – that’s for sure.
Cynthia, what a lovely tribute to Austin Clarke. I’m sorry for your loss of a friend on this side of Heaven. Those pictures you–all of them are wonderful. Like I’ve said before, you and Hamlin make a marvelous team–a team that blesses those around you.
Blessings ~ Wendy
Ah, Wendy. Thank you very much. You bless us too with your kindness and empathy.
A beautiful tribute to Austin, Cynthia. I know he’ll be smiling down upon it! ☺
I think you’re right, Kev. Thank you!
I’m so glad you had the chance to share a bit of time with him. Treasured moments to be remembered . . .
Thanks, Kay. And I just remembered, while reading your note, that of all the times I’ve seen Austin at my friends’ homes, I’ve never sat down with just him and had such a private, delightful time together.
This is a lovely tribute, Cynthia. Thanks so much for sharing this experience xxxx
You are welcome, Dianne. And thank you back!
Thanks for sharing this. It’s a nice remembrance.
Thank you. I’m glad you like it.
Thank you for your story and farewell to an interesting and complex man. I am glad we will have the voice of his writings to remember him by.
A complex human being indeed. And what a talent.
Very remarkable. You have achieved so much, and that makes me wonder why am I going nowhere? That might be just temporarily, though. Anyways, you deserve all of this success you have with your books.
Okay, now I’ll say something to you I often say to myself: “Don’t be crazy! You HAVE achieved much, and given much to others too!” I look to you with awe.
Inese: please send me, via Facebook, the contact information to give to people who may be interested in purchasing one of your paintings. I will put it on Facebook, send email, etc. Also, a couple of photos of paintings I could use in my message to friends. Thank you!
Lovely tribute to someone you admire so much, Cynthia. I have never read any of Austin’s books but I’m going to look them up. I feel the same way as you do about large gatherings. I always think when I’m there that I’m enjoying the occasion but when I leave, I relax and realize how tense I was.
I hear you. Parties are hard work! Thanks for your comment, Jean.
Cynthia, I have very fond and cherished memories of attending this reception with you and Hamlin. Meeting Austin was a major highlight of the evening!. A warm, welcoming and stately gentleman who made one feel immediately relaxed and at home. His spirit and his writings live on!
Well, this is bizarre. I thought of you and your response came in right away. I wonder if you have ESP powers!! I thought this post would make you smile. Glad you got the chance to meet Austin, Lee! He was charmed by you, I remember.
Such a beautiful story Cynthia, so sad that he is gone, but you’ve helped me know him a little better, and he’s as wonderful as I had suspected. How I would have loved to sit on that bench with you! 🙂
You would have absolutely loved it, and you, being a lover of books, would have had a great time chatting with him.
I would have loved him, I can tell.
A beautiful tribute to Austin Clarke, Cynthia. Thank you for sharing this story. I am so sorry he is gone now. Through your words I now know who he was, and his memoir is on my list.
Thank you for those words, Lavinia. I appreciate your kind response.
Oh! I’m so happy you had this time together! A beautiful tribute…thank you for sharing him with us…I will keep his books on my radar. Hope you are well ❤
Thanks, Lorrie. I hope your day is going well.
Wow. What a fascinating tale. I would have loved to have been there, and I’m sure I would have felt a little uncomfortable myself around such greatness. A sorry loss to the reading and writing world in Canada of Austin’s passing. 🙂
You would have been charmed by Austin. He was an interesting man.
I’m sure I would have been. 🙂
I love this tribute and the way you describe Austin. It strikes me that he was secure in his own greatness to be able to sit by himself and own the ‘shadows’.
He looks like a lovely chap. I’m sorry to hear he’s gone. I would definitely have been seriously daunted by a gathering like that, while at the same time I’d be talking to lots of people because I recognised from somewhere but didn’t know were famous!
I hear you, sister.
We hermits dread crowds, worse yet professional networking events. I much prefers a small group, or one-to-one exchange, over a meal and glass of wine. Better yet, silently walking or working the garden, with an occasional comment at some delightful discovery. St. Julian of Norwich’s cell would be my Ace-in-the-Hole. Finding a sole-mate writer, and having that memory of your interaction is grand.
Hah. But where would you put Bella and Tippy in Julian’s cell? (smile)
You’re right: it was a grand experience and I’m so glad I had it.