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.