Where Beauty Survived:A Memoir of Race, Family Secrets, and Africadia

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A vibrant, revealing memoir about the cultural and familial pressures that shaped George Elliott Clarke’s early life in the Black Canadian community that he calls Africadia, centred in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

As a boy, George Elliott Clarke knew that a great deal was expected from him and his two brothers. The descendants of a highly accomplished, Virginia-descended family on his father, Bill’s, side, George felt called to live up to the family name. In contrast, his mother, Gerry’s, family were warm, down-to-earth country folk. Such contradictions underlay much of his life and upbringing—Black and White, country and city, outstanding and ordinary, high and low. With vulnerability and humour George interrogates these dualities in Where Beauty Survived and shows us how they shaped him as a poet and thinker.
At the book’s heart is George’s turbulent relationship with his father, an autodidact who valued art, music and books but worked an unfulfilling railway job. George recalls Bill using a bowl of white sugar and a bowl of brown sugar to explain racial difference to him and his brothers when they were very small. But Bill also acted out destructive frustrations, assaulting George’s mother and sometimes George and his brothers, too.
Where Beauty Survived is the story of a complicated family, of the emotional stress that white racism exerts on Black households, of the unique cultural geography of Africadia, of a child who became a poet, and of long-kept secrets.

August 24, 2021


About the Author

A seventh-generation Nova Scotian, George Elliott Clarke was born in 1960 in Windsor Plans, Nova Scotia. He is known as a poet, as well as for his two-volume anthology of Black Writing from Nova Scotia, Fire in the Water. Volume One contains spirituals, poety sermons, and accounts from 1789 to the mid-twentieth century; Volume Two collects the work of the Black Cultural Renaissance in Nova Scotia, which, in Clarke's words, "speaks to people everywhere about overcoming hardships and liberating the spirit." Currently on faculty at Duke University, he is now writing both a play and an opera on slavery in Nova Scotia, a reformulation of Shelley's The Cenci. He has won many awards including the 1981 Prize for Adult Poetry from the Writers Federation of Nova Scotia, he was the 1983 first runner-up for the Bliss Carman Award for Poetry at the Banff Centre School of Arts and 1991 winner of the Archibald Lampman Award for Poetry from the Ottawa Independent Writers.

Books: Saltwater Spirituals and Deeper Blues (Pottersfield, 1983); Whylah Falls (Polestar, 1990, 2000); Provencal Songs (Magnum Book Store, 1993); Lush Dreams, Blue Exile: Fugitive Poems, 1978-1993 (Pottersfield, 1994); Provencal Songs II (Above/ground, 1997); Whylah Falls: The Play (Playwrights Canada, 1999, 2000); Beatrice Chancy (Polstar Books, 1999); Gold Indigoes (Carolina Wren, 2000); Execution Poems (Gaspereau, 2001); Blue (Raincoat, 2001); Odysseys Home: Mapping African-Canadian Literature (UofT Press, 2002)

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