Interview with Lawrence Hill

Get your heads out of the sand!

Can you think back to time where you were given an opportunity to meet your idol or your hero… How would you feel in that moment about the things you would say to them and how would your interaction be? 

Well your girl had the chance to meet the renowned, brilliant and enthusiastic author, Lawrence Hill. I was honored and grateful for the opportunity to be in his presence. 

Hill is a Canadian novelist and is famously known for his award-winning book, The Book of Negroes, and other significant contributions to the canon of Canadian literature, including Black Berry, Sweet Juice and his 2013 Massey Lecture entitled Blood: The Stuff of Life, just to name a few. 

I was invited to a private dinner with Hill and others including faculty and teachers within the community. This dinner created an intimate space allowing me to communicate with Hill on a more personal level. It was tremendously fascinating to watch the engagement between Hill and everyone seated at the table, his openness and willingness to be included in the conversation gave me a sense of comfort. Let me not forget to add how comical Hill is, and it did not require much effort to keep us entertained. 

After dinner ended it was time for me to have a one-on-one discussion with Hill to gather further information about his success and his views on identity and belonging. It is evident that we live in a world that is not shy of displaying extroverted disapproval to those who do not fit their criteria of what a person should be. 

Despite being emancipated from slavery, abolishing segregation, and activist fighting for equality, it is important that these issues still exist today. Individuals, specifically of African descent had to and still are enduring many trials and tribulations because of the color of their skin; Hill addresses these issues that people of color may come to face. I wondered how Hill would respond if he were to be racially discriminated against, this brought forth my first question. He states, “I was raised by an African American father who was a solider in the American army and a white American mother, who then moved to Canada a day after their wedding, and at this time segregation was at its apex. My father informed me if I was to ever be insulated racially, I should respond with violence or oppose it in some way, but I refused to respond with violence. I believes if someone has the right to call me repulsive things then I has the right to tell them they are disgusting individuals.” 

On the topic of racism, Hill adds “if I were to see someone else being racially insulted, I believe that it is my moral obligation to step in and speak up. You must be careful about how you intercede because things can escalate in ways that may reverberate back on you in negative ways racially.”

 I recently attended a forum, where I acquired Angela Davis’ (American political activist) beliefs and opinions on what it would take to create a world where we all feel like we belong. I wanted to get Hills’ views on this subject matter, “I do not believe that we will reach that point anytime soon.  Canadians tend to assume they are morally superior to other people in different parts of the world who are experiencing racial injustices. They would disregard these problems within Canada by putting their heads in the sand, but will not hesitate to point out current problems in other countries. We would have to look within ourselves, look at our current injustices, look at our current life and not be afraid to acknowledge where we do not measure up.” 

He concludes, “everyone should not strive to be the same or look the same, instead individuals should be accepting of differences and learn to live together. We as humans must be committed to abolishing racism and committed to accepting people for who they are. The Book of Negroes touches on the vast majority of these issues, hence its success.”

Why was this book such a success? Hill believes his book gives readers comfort in reading past injustices that were triumphed. It also introduces readers to a history that individuals might have been oblivious to, giving insight and information about Black history in Canada. I concluded by asking Hill for advice for aspiring authors, he said “in order to become something or achieve a goal you must put in the work to get desirable results. The opinions of others should never supersede your aspirations in life, you only have one chance at life so make the most of it.”