Tips on how to write good drama and more from Lawrence Hill
Renowned novelist and screenwriter Lawrence Hill spoke in Schwartz auditorium on Friday, October 19. Hill opened by speaking of the latest novel the professor of creative writing at Guelph University is currently writing. The release date of his book, announced to be titled Midnight Men at the event, has yet to be made official.
Hill was warmly welcomed to the stage by Kalista Desmond and the Strait Regional Drummers band. Desmond performed some new spoken word. A particularly moving line was “#powerfulnotpowerless” encouraging women to own their empowerment.
The drum group led by Morgan Gero performed three songs. Gero left her seat to distribute instruments to colleagues in the audience for a collaborative performance while her skilled drummers held the rhythm. Drummer Isaiah Williams spoke with The Xaverian Weekly post-show. Williams spoke about his favorite moment on Friday night, “I liked when I played the drums to welcome him here. One of the songs we played tonight was ‘Fonga’.”
Hill made the point of showing his appreciation for the drumming performance. Williams, who has been drumming for two years, remembers how after their performance, “Lawrence said it reminded him of drumming he heard when he was in West Africa and being welcomed to villages.”
During his time at the lectern, Hill read excerpts from The Book of Negroes and spoke in detail about imagery and other realistic or fictional literary elements in the novel. One thing he mentioned was that the novel is not about slavery; it is about the resilience of a woman.
During the question and answer period, Hill said that while his parents were not thrilled he desired to become a writer, they were instrumental in his upbringing as an author.
Referring to some of the nonsense poetry that his mother read to him as a child, Lawrence recited from memory the first verse of “Disobedience” by A. A. Milne to a laughing audience.
Williams asked Hill how long it took to write The Book of Negroes. Hill answered, “It took me five years. I rewrote the book eight times. That’s not as ridiculous as it sounds. To spend the time researching, writing, and rewriting, editing, rereading, and publishing over five years before I was satisfied.
“I wrote some other books along the way, it wasn’t the only one I did. Most writers have to do two or three different kinds of writing at a time to get money. Sometimes things you really care about that are really difficult take time. You have to let them gestate. Let them have the time that they need and they will take over from there. You are ill-advised to rush something if it’s coming along well. If you give it some time, it has a chance to get better.
By the way, unless you’re born with the genius of Mozart, chances are the first time you write something it’ll stink. That means you have to write it again, again, and again until it’s good. One of the reasons The Book of Negroes took five years is because it was so bad the first time. You have to keep working on it. Thank you for your question and your drumming.”
Emcees Addy Strickland and Rebecca Mesay brought the event to a close by asking Williams to come back on stage for the presentation of a gift to Hill.
The author stuck around post-show to meet the audience and sign everything from books to a case for glasses.
Prior to speaking publicly at StFX in the evening, Hill spoke privately at Dr. John Hugh Gillis high school with 80 students from neighbouring high schools in the morning. The intimate student-led discussion was held with students who had read and researched a novel of his in the classroom.
Even though Hill has travelled back home to Ontario, his authenticity and wisdom remain cherished in the community.