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.