Books·Magic 8 Q&A

Austin Clarke on what it takes to be a good writer

The author of 'Membering answers eight questions submitted by eight other authors.
Austin Clarke is a Giller Prize winner and the author of 'Membering. (Dundurn Press)

Austin Clarke, the poet, novelist and author of the Scotiabank Giller Prize-winning The Polished Hoe, died on June 26, 2016, at the age of 81. 

Upon the publication of his last book, the lively and fascinating 2015 memoir 'Membering, Clarke lent his characteristic wit and insight to our author-gen by answering eight questions submitted by eight of his fellow writers in the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A.

1. Claire Holden Rothman asks, "What keeps you writing, year after year?"

My arrogance!

2. Shani Mootoo asks, "Is the writing life a selfish indulgence, a narcissistic quest, or a plain crazy way to try and make a living?"

All of the above. The writer's life is by definition a selfish indulgence. It does not always determine a way to make a living, but I wouldn't concede that it is a crazy way to make a living. But I think I will conclude that writing is by definition a narcissistic quest. 

3. Greg Hollingshead asks, "What role does self-doubt play in your life as a writer?"

Self-doubt features in everything the writer describes. Self-doubt features in everything a writer decides. Without this self-doubt, it is questionable whether he is able to make his point. 

4. Helen Humphreys asks, "Which of your books is your favourite?"

The Survivors of the Crossing. It talks about history and those who survived a terrible history.

5. Anthony Bidulka asks, "What book do you wish you'd written?"

I am going to give a facetious answer to this one: It is my intention to write a book not covered by my outstanding production of all the topics I have, in fact, enumerated so far in my works already published. 

6. Emily St. John Mandel asks, "Do you write full-time, or do you also do other work? And if you write full-time now, what other jobs have you had in the past?"

Writing is my life. I am not capable of doing any other work (apart from having been a member of the Refugee Board and the Board of Censors). Writing has been a mainstay and the most important aspect of my life. It shall continue this way until I die.

7. Lynn Coady asks, "Is there a poet, philosopher, musician, painter or any other type of artist who has inspired your work in a concrete way at some point or another? If so, who?"

George Lamming, who wrote the first famous Barbadian novel, The Pleasures of Exile. Author/poet/playwright Kamau Brathwaite. I sat next to him in high school [Harrison College]. His interest in Charlie Parker and scatting. And Frantz Fanon because of his understanding of the black community and Africa and the world, and his understanding of what it means to be black in a white society (as he expressed in the title of his outstanding work, Black Skin, White Masks).

8. William Deverell asks, "Ever wanted to throttle an interviewer? Tell me about it."

No, I shall not be so crude. After all, I used to be a journalist myself.

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