George & Rue by George Elliott Clarke

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75,000 words hardcover
Finished books available


Canada: HarperFlamingo, Jan 2005
UK: Random/Harvill, Aug 2005


George Elliott Clarke (Photo: Thomas King)
(Photo: Thomas King)

Librettist, novelist, playwright, poet, screenwriter, and scholar, George Elliott Clarke won the Governor-General's Award for Poetry in 2001 (for Execution Poems); in 2004 he received the Martin Luther King Jr. Achievement Award. In 2005 his work attracted the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Fellowship Prize. In 2005-6 he published his first novel, George and Rue, in the US, UK, and Canada. His second novel, The Motorcyclist, will be published by HarperCollins Canada in February 2016.

The William Lyon Mackenzie King Visiting Professor in Canadian Studies at Harvard University in 2013-14, George Elliott Clarke remains the Poet Laureate of Toronto (2012-15). Now back at the University of Toronto as the E.J. Pratt Professor of Canadian Literature, Clarke’s newest book of poetry is Traverse (Exile Editions), an autobiographical poem.

George & Rue

by George Elliott Clarke


George & Rue - Carroll & Graf coverThe facts are clear-it was, by all accounts, a slug-ugly crime. Brothers George and Rufus Hamilton, in what was supposed to be a simple robbery, drunkenly bludgeoned a taxi driver to death with a hammer. It was January 1949, and the two brothers, part Mi'kmaq and part African, lived in the dirt-poor settlement of Barker's Point, New Brunswick. Less than eight months later, they were both hanged from the gallows for their crime.

Those facts are also the skeletons in George Elliott Clarke’s family closet. George and Rufus Hamilton were the author’s matrilineal first cousins, once removed. Despite the fact that the crime lives on in Fredericton, where the murder site is George & Rue - Harvill coverknown as “Hammertown”, Clarke knew nothing of this chapter in his family’s past untilhis mother told him about it in 1994. Both repelled and intrigued by his ancestors’ deeds, Clarke set out to discover just what kind of forces would reduce a man to crime, violence, and ultimately, murder. The results are an award-winning book of poetry, Execution Poems, and now George & Rue, a richly evocative fiction debut from one of this country’s literary luminaries.

The novel shifts seamlessly back through the killers’ pasts, recounting a bleakly comic tale of victims of violence who became violent themselves, an Africadian community—Three Mile Plains, Nova Scotia—too poor and too shamed to help the men, and a white community bent on condemning all blacks as dangerous outsiders.

George Elliott Clarke has written a horrific—and horrifically funny—story that is also infused with a sensual, rhythmical beauty.


“A lot like Faulkner...the novel sweeps you up in its narrative color and its lavish tongue and then, with stately force comes together into a solid crime story.”  — O: THE OPRAH MAGAZINE

“This haunting first heartbreaking and beautifully rendered.”  — ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY

“Vivid, raw... wonderfully descriptive writing.”  — USA TODAY

“Thanks to Clarke's elegiac, measured prose, the story achieves the quality of high tragedy.”  — ALBERTO MANGUEL

“This is a profoundly insightful, stark, fictional account of two desperate black men whose fruitless lives reflect the consequences of bigotry and intolerance.”  — LIBRARY JOURNAL

“A powerful debut, with a visceral understanding of pain and anger.”  — KIRKUS REVIEWS

“Sparkling, powerfully inventive prose.”  — PUBLISHERS WEEKLY

George & Rue is a book that hits you like a hammer and robs you blind with its crooked volatile heart and cold-blooded beauty. I'm telling you, this book is a hot Coca-Cola, blond Jesus poem of prophecy, ripe with rapture and pain, full of perfect violent craving and pulp heartbreak, full of bad wine and zoot-suit murder that will have its gangster way with you. George Elliott Clarke has written a gigantic golden noose of a novel!”  — CHUCK KINDER author of Last Mountain Dancer: Hard-Earned Lessons in Love, Loss, and Honky-Tonk Outlaw Life

“Like Alex Haley in Roots, George Elliott Clarke has mined his family tree for the poignant story of George & Rue. His heart does not waver in its quest for the courage to shed light on a grievous crime. George & Rue is an extraordinary and poignant first novel. We weep with Clarke while rejoicing in his triumph.”  — NIKKI GIOVANNI, author of Quilting the Black-Eyed Pea

“Brilliant.... In a gripping narrative that digs into our heart, George & Rue exposes the entrails of raw racism. As Richard Wright did in his masterpiece, Native Son, which reveals the rage and powerlessness at the core of black urban life in the USA, so too does George Elliot Clarke, writing about Canada during the Second World War.”  — AUSTIN CLARKE

“Sometimes even acts of brutality can be framed by the prose of beauty. This is the task George Elliott Clarke has set himself. He writes from the heart as well as from the head. No one else has his voice nor his literary fingerprints, and he deserves to be heard. His is a voice from one of Canada's oldest populations—a population that has too long been silent. It is about time. He is unique and we should all be grateful.”  — ALISTAIR MACLEOD

“George Elliott Clarke is not just a national—that is, Canadian—treasure, but a treasure of world literature. In many ways he is the most fearless of writers; a true original. In his new novel, 'the true Black Acadian tragedy of George and Rufus Hamilton'—a stunning story of murder and near-redemption—Clarke has written a stark, beautiful, disturbing symphony for the ages. George and Rufus are as vivid, unforgettable, haunting characters as I have ever met. Every page of this novel has heartbreaking genius.”  — HOWARD NORMAN

“Rough, uncompromising and ultimately heartbreaking.”  — THE TIMES, UK

“A novel of exceptional power and imagination.”  — NATIONAL POST

“An amazing first novel…. Mesmerizing.”  — TORONTO STAR

“Any one sentence could be lifter from the novel and offered up as sublime poetry.”  — CALGARY HERALD

“This is a dark tale of race relations told with cinematic touches of noir and bloody daubs of sang-froid.... Clarke so effectively reveals the ways in which poverty enrages the Hamilton brothers that some of his pages are as evocative as those of James Baldwin.... George Elliot Clarke is one of our most ebullient writers, deeply sensual and carnal, and his lush and luxurious language captures the bodies of both men, with all their appetites, in memorable ways.”  — THE GLOBE AND MAIL

“An extraordinarily painful story, George & Rue is magnificently delivered.... It is courageous, illuminating, and deserving of a broad audience.”  — CBC.CA

“The novel disturbs, challenges and confronts the reader.... It is hauntingly brutal.”  — MACLEANS MAGAZINE

“A beautiful example of what poets can bring to the novel form.... George & Rue is a rare accomplishment.”  — QUILL & QUIRE

“This formidably crafted recreation of a desperate episode should win widespread acclaim.”  — THE INDEPENDENT, UK

“A vibrant, haunting tale of crime and punishment.”  — THE WINDSOR STAR

“The power of Clarke's writing...ensures that the reader follows George and Rufus all the way to their bitter end.”  — WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

George & Rue is cinematic...with a narrative line that moves at a relentless pace toward the inevitable horror. Only a writer with Clarke's assurance would take so many risks to deliver this powerful and haunting portrait of lives made hopeless by circumstance.”  — OTTAWA CITIZEN

“Simultaneously sensual and savage, the novel struggles against its predestined ending but Clarke's primal, rhythmic use of language puts pungent, earthy flesh on cold bare facts.”  — METRO, TORONTO



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