By Lawrence Hill

“How Harper Lee Helped Canadians Ignore Racism in Our Own Backyard”

The Globe and Mail, February 1, 2016

Harper Lee, a giant of American literature, died Friday. What do her life and her work mean to Canadians, as we move through the ever-shifting sands of racial politics and try to define and better understand our past and our present? 

Removed from immediacy of childhood, Go Set a Watchman less powerful than Mockingbird

The Globe and Mail, July 14, 2015

No American novel has had a more seminal influence on our perception of racial injustice, and of the need to oppose it, than Harper Lee’sTo Kill a Mockingbird. First published in 1960, and set in the Great Depression in the early 1930s in the fictional Maycomb County in Alabama, To Kill a Mockingbird created two of the most memorable characters in 20th-century literature ... It has been assumed for decades that Mockingbird would be Lee’s only book: An instant bestseller and Pulitzer Prize-winner that has been translated into more than 40 languages. But the book we think of as her first turns out to be her second ... In a way, it helps to see Go Set a Watchman as an early draft of To Kill a Mockingbird — a draft written before she figured out the story she really had to tell.

“What I Learned About Language When I Titled My Novel The Book of Negroes, February 13, 2015

In 2007, shortly before the first printing of the novel in the United States, my American publisher (W.W. Norton & Co.) changed the title to Someone Knows My Name. I was told that American bookstores were reluctant to order a book with the word Negroes on the cover. In the Netherlands, meanwhile, where the Canadian title was translated quite literally to Het Negerboek, a small group of protesters of Dutch Surinamese descent was so outraged that they burned copies of the book cover in an Amsterdam park. When, back in the States, BET bought a six-part miniseries adaptation of the story ..., the network opted to use my original title, which persuaded Norton to re-release the book as The Book of Negroes. This back-and-forth made me wonder: What is it with the word Negroes? How has it come to be so incendiary?

“Adaptation: Rewriting The Book of Negroes for the Small Screen” 

The Walrus, December 15, 2014

We novelists crave legitimacy. If a filmmaker acquires the rights to your book, that means you’re doing well—that you deserve a smidgen of respect. There are few ways for us to get ahead; we have been known to take on all manner of ignoble work in order to buy cheese and bread. I have written for newspapers, penned speeches for politicians I’d never support with my ballot, taught creative writing, led bicycle tours and canoe trips, washed dishes, and worked as a train operator. Trust me: selling film rights beats all of the above.

“Meet You at the Door”

The Walrus, September 12, 2012

This happened back in the dinosaur days, in the town of Gull Lake, population 800. The gulls had all died, and if ever there had been a lake it had dried up. On the Saskatchewan farmlands, oil pumps bobbed up and down, up and down, looking like black grasshoppers on speed. Folks were fuming about the metric system and had a nickname for the new top-loading railway car: a Trudeau hopper. I had other preoccupations. A ghost had chased me out of university and had hounded me for a year in Greece, Italy, France, and Spain. And now I was back in Canada, to take a summer job in a place where I knew no one.

Is Africa’s Pain Black America’s Burden?”

The Walrus , February 2005

In 1895, W.E.B. Du Bois became the first black to obtain a Ph.D. from Harvard University. He helped found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and argued that only the elite of the African-American middle class, the “talented tenth,” could pull the entire black population out of their collective oppression. Du Bois’s view contrasted sharply with the ideas of Booker T. Washington, a former slave who argued that social change for American blacks could only be achieved from the ground up, through entering the trades and working hard. Both men inspired African-Americans as well as African-Canadians, and the civil rights movement improved conditions for all. Conditions, in Africa, meanwhile, have become increasingly dire—and are increasingly ignored.

The Freedom Seeker

Archives of Ontario, 2007

Father of Lawrence Hill and his siblings singer-songwriter Dan Hill and the late novelist Karen Hill, Daniel G. Hill III — along with his wife Donna Bender Hill — was a pioneer in the fields of human rights and Black history in Canada. The son and grandson of African-American ministers of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Daniel Hill was born in Independence, Missouri in 1923, and served as a Black soldier in the highly segregated American Army in World War II. After the war, he obtained a degree from Howard University, studied in Norway and moved permanently to Canada one day after his interracial marriage to Donna Bender in Washington DC in 1953. They raised their family in Toronto, where Donna worked for the Toronto Labour Committee for Human Rights and where Daniel obtained his PhD in Sociology at the University of Toronto after completing his groundbreaking PhD thesis Negroes in Toronto: A Sociological Study of a Minority Group (1960). Daniel Hill became the first Director and later the chairperson of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, ran a human rights consulting firm, and later served as the Ombudsman of Ontario. Daniel and Donna, along with friends, co-founded the Ontario Black History Society and Daniel Hill's book The Freedom Seekers: Blacks in Early Canada became the first popular history of African-Canadians.