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When He Was Free and Young and He Used to Wear Silks

Written by Austin Clarke

Published October 06, 2020 | ISBN 9781487008420
FICTION / Short Stories

Cover of When He Was Free and Young and He Used to Wear Silks

Regular price $16.95 CAD

176 pages | 8.5 in × 5.5 in
Print Format

Also Available as an Ebook

About this book

When He Was Free and Young and He Used to Wear Silks

Austin Clarke

Now available after over four decades, the first collection of short fiction from bestselling author and Barbadian-born Canadian luminary Austin Clarke — winner of the Scotiabank Giller Prize, the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, and the Trillium Book Award for his novel The Polished Hoe — is a vital, lyrical, and provocative exploration of the Black immigrant experience in Canada.

Originally issued in 1971, Austin Clarke’s first published collection of eleven remarkable stories showcases his groundbreaking approach to chronicling the Caribbean diaspora experience in Canada. Characters move through the mire of working life, of establishing a home for themselves, of reconciling with what and who they left behind — all the while contending with a place in which their bone-chilling reception is both social and atmospheric. In lyrical, often racy, and wholly unforgettable prose, Clarke portrays a set of provocative, scintillating portraits of the psychological realities faced by people of colour in a society so often lauded for its geniality and openness.

About the Author

Austin Clarke

AUSTIN CLARKE (1934–2016) was one of Canada’s foremost authors, whose work includes ten novels, six short-story collections, three memoirs, and two collections of poetry. His novel The Polished Hoe won the 2002 Giller Prize. Clarke was appointed to the Order of Canada, held four honorary doctorates, and was awarded the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, the W. O. Mitchell Prize, the Casa de las Américas Prize, and the Martin Luther King Jr. Award for Excellence in Writing, among others. In his fifty-year career he worked as a journalist, a professor, and a cultural attaché in Washington, D.C.

Awards and Praise


“Tremendously versatile in what he expresses, and exhilarating to read.” — Globe and Mail

“Powerful and probing. Situations may be cruel, reactions vulgar, but the vitality of the characters is mirrored by the style which shapes and moulds and becomes, from time to time, the theme itself.” — London Free Press

“Funny, sad, boisterous, virile, vigorous.” — Queen’s Quarterly

“Gives a convincing and compassionate picture of the life of these immigrants in Toronto set against the varied backgrounds of their West Indian life.” — Windsor Star


Winner, Scotiabank Giller Prize
Winner, Commonwealth Writers’ Prize Best Book (Canada and the Caribbean)
Winner, Trillium Book Award

“An utterly extraordinary and thoroughly compelling tragedy of Shakespearean scope … Stunning and heart-rending … it ought to be both widely read and deeply remembered.” — Globe and Mail

“An unqualified masterpiece.” — Toronto Star

“There’s a mesmerizing stillness to Austin Clarke's latest novel.” — New York Times

“[The novel’s] meandering orality, its slow-burning power, succeeds movingly in asserting memory over the silent gaps in recorded history.” — Guardian

“The Polished Hoe is a magnificent, breathtaking plunge into the secret depths of human relations … Clarke is a master at capturing the flavour and nuance of language and weaving its local intricacies into universal stories.” — Wayne Grady, Ottawa Citizen

“A remarkable achievement. Its story is obviously deeply felt.” — London Free Press

“An undeniably ambitious work … The story unfolds over one evening — which actually spans a lifetime … It was long past the time when Austin Clarke should have been acknowledged as one of Canada’s most important and most accomplished writers.” — Kitchener-Waterloo Record

“A wonderful book to meander through.” — Quill & Quire

“Brilliantly written dialogue, a rich, dancing patois that fills out the dimensions of the island’s painful history and its complex caste system.” — Publishers Weekly

“A memorable landscape of oppression.” — Kirkus Reviews

“The Polished Hoe is that rare creation that soars above the earth to become more than the sum of its parts.” — Books in Canada