Award winning and internationally renowned author Lawrence Hill doesn’t shy away from the darker truths of Canadian history. His widely acclaimed novel The Book of Negroes is case in point.
“When I toured The Book of Negroes, often I met with stupefaction because Canadians just didn’t know about this history,” says Hill. “Canadians were more likely to know more something about Abraham Lincoln or Martin Luther King or the US Civil War than they were to know about the history of slavery in our own country. I think we battle up against this notion that we in Canada are somehow morally superior to the Americans, which is a dangerous way to think because it prevents from really knowing who we are.”
Internationally recognized author Lawrence Hill will be Nelson on November 7 for a Mire Centre for Peace Lecture Series called Blood: The Stuff of Life.
Selkirk College will welcome Hill to Nelson’s Mary Hall on the Tenth Street Campus for a Mir Centre for Peace Lecture Series on Friday, November 7. He will be speaking about his latest non-fiction book Blood: The Stuff of Life, engaging those in attendance in a lively discussion and going back into our nation’s less traveled history.
“If you truly explore our histories, Canada’s history is just as sordid and painful and full of oppression as is American history,” he says.
One of Canada’s Most Respected Writers
Hill is the son of American immigrants—a black father and a white mother—who made the decision to come to Canada they day after they were married in Washington, DC in 1953. On his father’s side, Hill’s grandfather and great grandfather were university educated ordained ministers of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. His mother came from a Republican family in Oak Park, Illinois and went on to become a civil rights activist.
Hill grew up in the predominantly white suburb of Don Mills, Ontario and was greatly influenced by his parents’ work in the human rights movement. Much of Hill’s writing touches on issues of identity and belonging.
Formerly a reporter with The Globe and Mail and a parliamentary correspondent for The Winnipeg Free Press, Hill attended the University of British Columbia and last visited Nelson in the 1970s when he stopped by as a student.
Hill is now the author of nine books of fiction and non-fiction. In 2005, he won his first honour for his work, a National Magazine Award for the article “Is Africa’s Pain Black American’s Burden?” which was published in The Walrus. Hill’s work came to the forefront with his third novel, The Book of Negroes which was published in 2007. The novel won several awards including The Commonwealth Prize for Best Book which came with a private audience with Queen Elizabeth II.
Hill Puts Focus on What’s In Our Veins
Hill’s latest offering, Blood: The Stuff of Life was published in September, 2013 and is a personal consideration of the physical, social, cultural and psychological aspects of blood.
“It’s about all the different ways we see our blood,” says Hill. “The ways we imagine our blood, I believe feeds profoundly into the sense of who we are and how we see ourselves.”
Hill drew from the book to deliver the 2013 Massey Lectures across Canada. The lectures were broadcast on the CBC Radio program “Ideas.”
Opening a Dark Chapter of Canada’s History
The Book of Negroes is based on the life journey of Aminata Diallo who is abducted as an 11-year-old from her village in West Africa and sent to live as a slave in South Carolina. Years later she forges her way to freedom by serving with the British in the Revolutionary War and registering her name in the historic “Book of Negroes.” Her journey takes her to Halifax, the jungles of Sierra Leone and ultimately freedom in England.
The impact The Book of Negroes has had on our deeper understanding of Canada’s past will soon be stamped on a broader audience. The book has been turned into a six-part miniseries that will air on the CBC early in 2015.
The Book of Negroes has been turned into a six-part miniseries that will air on the CBC in early 2015.
“It was a huge departure,” Hill says of having to adapt his book into a screenplay. “Half the reason you write novels is so you don’t have to collaborate with other people, you can sit in your pajamas and work alone at home. It was rare for me to work in that medium because suddenly I was working in group of people and not the one making all the calls. I quite enjoyed it.”
Hill hopes the miniseries—which stars Academy Award winners Louis Gossett Jr. and Cuba Gooding Jr.—will resonate with a larger audience that will have the opportunity to explore a piece of Canadian history that is not well told.
“Americans don’t shy away from their slave history, but we do in Canada,” he says. “I think we have a tendency to bury our heads in the sand about who we are and where we’ve been. That is one of the reasons why I wrote The Book of Negroes, to shatter that and bring to light another story.”
The Mir Lecture Series event starts at 7 p.m. on November 7 at Nelson’s Mary Hall. Tickets are $16 for adults, $13 for students/seniors. Tickets are available at the Selkirk College Castlegar Bookstore, Otter Books in Nelson or by calling 250.365.1281.