Meet the Author
Lawrence Hill is a writer for whom it is readily apparent the many ways in which his family has inspired his writing career. He is the son of American immigrants — a black father and a white mother — who came to Canada the day after they married in 1953 in Washington, D.C. As an interracial couple in the fifties, they looked to establish their family in a society less racially segregated than the southern US.
“They influenced me in every way imaginable as a writer and a storyteller,” he says of his parents. “My mother read poetry to me…and my father excited me about storytelling, by engaging us daily with wildly inventive stories, always accompanied by sound effects.” Hill’s parents did more than initiate him to the art of storytelling. They laid the foundation for his interest in the history of Blacks who came to this country. His father, Daniel Hill III became a pioneer in human rights in Canada and prominent writer and historian in the field of the history of Blacks in Canada. In 1978, together with Hill’s mother, Donna, they formed the Ontario Black History Society – the first organization of its time in the county.
In terms of The Book of Negroes, Hill’s most widely recognized book, he admits to filching, from his parents’ bookshelf, a scholarly book called The Black Loyalists by James Walker. “I must confess that I found it utterly fascinating and never gave it back,” says Hill. It offered the detailed account of the story of the 3,000 Black Loyalists, who migrated to Nova Scotia from Manhattan in 1783 at the end of the American Revolutionary War. “This book planted the seed of what grew into The Book of Negroes,” says Hill. “My father died before I wrote the novel, but one of the proudest moments of my life was giving my mother one of the very first copies.”
Naming the protagonist after his own daughter (whose middle name is Aminata) allowed Hill to imagine the character as his daughter. He asked himself how his own daughter would have survived physically and emotionally, had she been in Aminata’s situation. “I imagined the character to be my own daughter, so that I could feel and write about her experiences more deeply,” says Hill. Interestingly, his passion for the lives of West African people is mirrored in his daughter who works in international development in Ghana.
Hill is now the author of nine books of fiction and non-fiction. This fall, he will give the Massey Lectures in five Canadian cities. Blood: The Stuff of Life, published by the House of Anansi Press, is a personal consideration of the physical, social, cultural and psychological aspects of blood, how it defines, unites and divides us.
And why did Lawrence Hill become a writer? “I write to understand,” he says. And he knows how fortunate he is to do so. “I find myself working harder than ever, but have the great fortune to spend most of my time pursuing my own writing passions. That seems like a lucky and privileged way to live… following one’s passions. To me, the ultimate success of an artist is both simple and hard to achieve: spending most of your working time doing your thing,” says Hill. “If you can do that – dance if you are a dancer, paint if you are drawn to the canvas, and write if you are like me and have fallen in love with words and stories – then your life will be rich, indeed.”
Formerly a reporter with The Globe and Mail and parliamentary correspondent for The Winnipeg Free Press, Hill also speaks French and Spanish. He has lived and worked across Canada, in Baltimore, and in Spain and France. He is an honorary patron of Crossroads International, for which he travelled as a volunteer to the West African countries Niger, Cameroon and Mali, and to which he lends the name of his best-known character for the Aminata Fund, which supports programs for girls and women in Africa. Hill is also a member of the Council of Patrons of the Black Loyalist Heritage Society, and of the Advisory Council of Book Clubs for Inmates and is an honorary patron of Project Bookmark Canada. He has a B.A. in economics from Laval University in Quebec City and an M.A. in writing from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Hill lives in Hamilton, Ontario and in Woody Point, Newfoundland with his family.
For more information visit lawrencehill.com.