Anna has been toying with the idea of becoming a writer, interest that was sparked after learning about Frankenstein author Mary Shelley’s life.
Surfing through our city’s official website I came across information for a lecture the city was hosting with acclaimed Canadian writer Dr. Austin Clarke, in honor of February being Black history month.
In all honesty I had never heard of Dr. Clarke before, which was already reason enough on its own to attend his lecture. This, added to Anna’s new career interest motivated us to do the trek downtown in the freezing cold.
I don’t have any expectations of if Anna will or will not in fact become a writer. My frame of mind is more along the lines of, if this is what she’s expressing interest in at this moment, I’m here to support it. She was excited at the prospect of being face-to-face with someone who had received so much recognition and had made a life out of writing. In a sense, I guess it made the dream seem achievable.
Dr. Clarke talked about his birth country, Barbados, and its denial towards its own history of slavery.
With what seemed like nostalgia in his eyes he talked about a time when beauty was in music, in the proud women’s afros, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was still present to remind black people how beautiful they are. “The music, nowadays, has a different purpose. And you know what kind of music I’m talking about”.
He shared with us memories of a time when black people couldn’t get their hair cut by barbers in Toronto. Most of the time they couldn’t get jobs either, which prompted many of them to continue their studies, to go to grad school. This gave birth to a wave of West Indies’ lawyers, which for him was, in the midst of all bad racism can be, a good thing.
He talked about his first job as a journalist; how he wrote up his first article– a full ten pages of it! His editor and friend to this day looked at him and told him “Spend your day reading the Globe and Mail and learn how to write a journalist story”. That article was changed from ten pages to one and a half paragraphs.
Dr. Clarke mentioned how he likes to sit by his second-storey window and look out into a park, which at night is dimly lit and has very bad reputation mainly due to “the Toronto Star’s prejudice”. He has observed many times how women quicken their step when crossing this park; how they hold their cellphones up and pretend to be talking to someone. He thinks this is just one of many differences between men and women in Toronto, the feeling of being exposed and frail. These women who cross this park inspired him to write about them in a passage he read to us, written from the woman’s perspective.
The exercise of observing is what has made him the accomplished writer he is today. “As a writer I spend my time looking at people, just like I look at you now. In two years I may write a novel and you’ll read about yourself there”, and after a quick chuckle he added “in a good way!”
Close to the end of his lecture and in a message of advice to future writers he added “Go into the mind, if not into the mouth, of the subject and describe what it is they see”. Sound advice.
I found it to be a very edifying morning; I’m very glad we were there.