Lawrence Hill

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For the suburb of Bracknell in the UK, see Lawrence Hill, Bracknell Forest, for the inner city area of Bristol, UK see Lawrence Hill, Bristol.
Lawrence Hill
Lawrence Hill professional.jpg
Occupation novelist, non-fiction writer
Nationality Canadian
Period 1990s–present
Notable works Black Berry, Sweet Juice, The Book of Negroes

Lawrence Hill is a Canadian novelist, essayist and memoirist.[1] He is best known for his 2013 Massey Lectures Blood: The Stuff of Life, his critically acclaimed 2007 novel The Book of Negroes and his 2001 memoir Black Berry, Sweet Juice: On Being Black and White in Canada.[2]

Hill was born in Newmarket, Ontario as the son of American immigrants – a black father and white mother – who moved to Toronto from Washington, D.C. in 1953.[3]

Personal life[edit]

Hill was born in 1957 in Newmarket, Ontario.[4] On his father's side, Hill's grandfather and great grandfather were university-educated, ordained ministers of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.[5] Hill's father, Daniel G. Hill, became the first director and later the chairperson of the Ontario Human Rights Commission.[6] Daniel Hill also served as the Ombudsman of Ontario and published a still seminal work about Black history in Canada: The Freedom Seekers: Blacks in Early Canada.[6] Hill's mother, Donna M. Hill, came from a Republican family in Oak Park, Illinois, graduated from Oberlin College and later went on to become a civil rights activist in Washington, D.C.[7] Donna Hill worked as a human rights activist for the Toronto Labor Committee for Human Rights in the early 1950s and worked to persuade the Ontario government to enact anti-discrimination legislation.[7] Also writing on Black history: A Black Man's Toronto, 1914-1980: The Reminiscences of Harry Gaiery, Donna Hill's book was published in 1980 by the Multicultural History Society of Ontario.[7]

Daniel and Donna Hill co-founded The Ontario Black History Society with Wilson O. Brooks and other friends.[8] Their second son, Lawrence Hill grew up in the predominantly white suburb of Don Mills, Ontario in the sixties with his brother, singer-songwriter and writer Dan Hill and sister,[6] the late Karen Hill (1958-2014), who wrote a novel, short stories, poems and an essay which remain to be published.[9]

After attending the University of Toronto Schools, Hill earned a B.A in economics from Laval University in Quebec City and later also earned an M.A. in writing from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.[10] Hill has been awarded honorary doctorates from The University of Toronto, Wilfred Laurier University, The University of Waterloo and Dalhousie University and is a Senior Fellow at Massey College at the University of Toronto.[5][11]

Hill taught undergraduate fiction writing while completing his M.A. at Johns Hopkins,[12] and since graduating has taught creative writing or mentored creative writers in numerous adult education programs, forming a rich part of his engagement with the world of Canadian letters.[13] Some of the many places he has taught or mentored include: The Booming Ground program at the University of British Columbia, the Humber School for Writers, Sage Hill Writing Experience and The Banff Centre.[14] Hill has served numerous times on juries granting literary awards or writing grants, and has spoken many times at academic and social conferences, literary festivals, libraries, universities and high schools across Canada,[15] the United States,[16] Mexico,[17] Europe, South America, South Africa, the Caribbean and Australia.[18]

Having lived and worked in Baltimore, Spain and France, Lawrence Hill presently lives with his wife, the writer Miranda Hill, in Hamilton, Ontario and in Woody Point, Newfoundland. They have four daughters and a son.[19]

Writing career[edit]

Hill's first passion was running, but despite years of intense training and competing his dreams of becoming an elite athlete and winning an Olympic gold medal in the 5, 000 meters were not realized.[19] He threw himself into writing in his teenage years and completed his first story at the early age of 14.[19] After receiving his B.A. in economics at Laval University, Hill worked for four years as a full-time newspaper reporter for The Globe and Mail, and later for The Winnipeg Free Press.[3][20] He went on to be the parliamentary bureau chief for the newspaper in Ottawa, covering Parliament, the Supreme Court of Canada and a wide range of cultural, economic and social issues.[20] Resigning from his position as parliamentary bureau chief in 1986, Hill moved to Spain to begin writing fiction full-time.[19]

The work of his parents in the human rights movement and Black history greatly influenced Hill's work in identity and belonging as a writer. Hill curated and wrote the exhibit on his father for the Ontario Archives, called The Freedom Seeker: The Life and Times of Daniel G. Hill.[7]

Now the author of nine books, Hill's nonfiction books include Trials and Triumphs: The Story of African-Canadians (1993), Women of Vision: The Story of the Canadian Negro Women's Association (1996), Black Berry, Sweet Juice: On Being Black and White in Canada (2001), The Deserter's Tale: The Story of An Ordinary Soldier Who Walked Away from the War in Iraq (2007), Dear Sir, I Intend to Burn Your Book: An Anatomy of a Book Burning (2013) and Blood: The Stuff of Life (2013). Hill's fictional works include Some Great Thing (1992), Any Known Blood (1997), and The Book of Negroes (2007), which brought his work to broad public attention and won numerous awards.[10]

Published in at least ten countries The Book of Negroes won several awards including the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize, both CBC Radio's Canada Reads and Radio-Canada's Le Combat des livres, and the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best Book.[5] The novel has been chosen by community or academic reading programs encouraging all citizens (of the city in question) or incoming first-year students to read and discuss at Dalhousie University (twice),[21] Trent University, the Calgary Public Library,[22] The City of Rothesay (NB),[23] the Hamilton Public Library[24] and the One Book One Community program linking Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge, Ontario.[25]

The Book of Negroes was adapted into a six-part television miniseries, which Hill co-wrote with director Clement Virgo, featuring actors Aunjanue Ellis, Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Louis Gossett, Jr..[26] Filmed in South Africa, Nova Scotia and Ontario in early 2014, the miniseries premiered in Cannes, Toronto and Manhattan in the fall of 2014, began to air on CBC Television in Canada in January 2015, and is slated to air on BET in the USA in February 2015.[27][28][29][30] Although Hill's novel The Book of Negroes was first released in 2007 by W. W. Norton & Company under the title Someone Knows My Name,[31] the American publisher re-issued a new edition of the novel with the original title in January 2015. BET has also committed to releasing the TV miniseries in the USA as The Book of Negroes.[32] HarperCollins Australia released the novel as Someone Knows My Name in Australia and New Zealand.

Hill's short fiction has ben featured in the literary quarterlies Descant and Exile, as well as in Canadian newspapers and magazines such as The Toronto Star and Toronto Life.[19] The Walrus published Hill's award-winning essay "Is Africa's Pain Black America's Burden",[33] as well as a short story entitled "Meet You at the Door".[34] Its January–February 2015 issue featured Hill's essay on the creative process of rewriting The Book of Negroes for the small screen.[35]

Hill served as a writer in residence with the Toronto District School Board from 2011 to 2013, visiting some twenty schools in that time frame to speak with students about the art and business of writing.[36]

Hill was selected in 2013 as CBC Massey Lecturer, and in the fall of that year he delivered lectures in five Canadian cities, drawn from his book Blood: the Stuff of Life.[37] Published in 2013 by House of Anansi Press in Toronto, and later aired on CBC Radio, Blood: The Stuff of Life is a personal consideration of the physical, social, cultural and psychological aspects of blood, how it defines, unites and divides us.[38] In 2015, Blood: The Stuff of Life won the Hamilton Literary Award for Non Fiction.[39]

He was named a Member of the Order of Canada in 2015.[40]

His newest novel, The Illegal, is slated for publication in fall 2015.[41] The novel has already been optioned for film treatment by Conquering Lion Pictures, the producers of the Book of Negroes miniseries.[42]


French translations have been published by Les Éditions de la Pleine Lune in Montreal.[43]

  • Aminata (from The Book of Negroes), translated by Carole Noel, 2011. It was also published in French by Presence Africaine in Paris.
  • Un grand destin (from Some Great Thing), translated by Robert Paquin, 2012.
  • Le sang: essence de la vie (from Blood: The Stuff of Life), translated by Carole Noel, 2014.

Aminata became a bestseller in Quebec, where it won Le combat des livres on Radio-Canada. It was also published by Présence Africaine in Paris, France, where it was shortlisted, in 2013, for the Prix Fetkann.[44]

The Book of Negroes has also appeared in translation in Dutch, Norwegian, German and Hebrew.


Deeply passionate about the advancement of women and girls in Africa, Hill has travelled as a volunteer to the West African countries of Niger, Cameroon and Mali since 1979.[45] His first published work of fiction, a short story entitled My Side of the Fence, recounted the transformative experience of working in Niger with Crossroads International.[46] As an honorary patron of Crossroads, in 2010 Hill founded the Aminata Fund, supporting programs for women and girls developing areas of Africa.[45] He returned in 2014 as a Crossroads volunteer in Swaziland.[47]

In 2007, Hill collaborated with former US-Army private Joshua Key to write Key's memoir of serving with the American Army in the Iraq War in 2004, and deserting the army and seeking refugee status in Canada in 2005. The Deserter's Tale: the Story of an Ordinary Soldier Who Walked Away from the War in Iraq appeared in Canada (House of Anansi Press),[48] the United States (Grove Atlantic)[49] and in more than ten other languages or countries.[50][51]

Hill has been on the advisory council of Book Clubs for Inmates since 2010.[52] He has also been a member of the Council of Patrons of the Black Loyalist Heritage Society, in Birchtown Nova Scotia, since 2011.[53] Hill is an honorary patron of Project Bookmark Canada since 2012.[54] He is a member of PEN Canada and an active member of the Writers' Union of Canada, for which he has chaired and sat on various committees and served on the National Council.[55]

Awards and honours[edit]

Academic awards and honours[edit]

Literary awards and honours[edit]

Community awards[edit]



  • Some Great Thing (Winnipeg: Turnstone Press, 1992)
  • Any Known Blood (Canada, Toronto: HarperCollins, 1997; William Morrow, New York, 1999)
  • The Book of Negroes (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2015 and Toronto: HarperCollins, 2007); also published as Someone Knows My Name (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2007 and Sydney: HarperCollins Australia, 2009)
  • The Illegal (2015)


  • Trials and Triumphs: The Story of African-Canadians (Toronto: Umbrella Press, 1993)
  • Women of Vision: The Story of the Canadian Negro Women's Association (Toronto: Umbrella Press, 1996)
  • Black Berry, Sweet Juice: On Being Black and White in Canada (Toronto: HarperCollins Canada, 2001)
  • The Deserter's Tale: The Story of an Ordinary Soldier Who Walked Away from the War in Iraq, with Joshua Key (New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2007; Toronto: House of Anansi Press, 2007; Melbourne: Text Publishing Co., 2007)
  • Dear Sir, I Intend to Burn Your Book: An Anatomy of a Book Burning (Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 2013)
  • Blood: The Stuff of Life (Toronto: House of Anansi Press, 2013)



  • Seeking Salvation: A History of the Black Church in Canada, Travesty Productions, Toronto, 2004 (winner of 2005 American Wilbur Award for best national television documentary)


  1. ^ "Lawrence Hill on the power of blood". Maclean's. September 14, 2013. Retrieved 2015-01-13. 
  2. ^ "Lawrence Hill dives full bore into the subject of blood". The Globe and Mail. October 4, 2013. Retrieved 2015-01-13. 
  3. ^ a b "Lawrence Hill". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2015-01-13. 
  4. ^ Author Biography. Lawrence Hill. Retrieved on 2015-04-03.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g
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  9. ^ "Lawrence Hill on his late sister, Karen Louise Hill". The Toronto Star. April 3, 2014. Retrieved 2015-01-13. 
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  15. ^!keynotes/cqbd
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  19. ^ a b c d e f g h i
  20. ^ a b "Top of the Hill". The Winnipeg Free Press. June 3, 2010. Retrieved 2015-01-13. 
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  22. ^ "Book of Negroes author coming to town for One Book, One Calgary". Calgary Herald. November 4, 2013. Retrieved 2015-01-13. 
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  26. ^ "Blood and belonging in the Book of Negroes". Maclean's. January 4, 2015. Retrieved 2015-01-13. 
  27. ^ "'The Book' opens on BET". USA Today. January 11, 2015. Retrieved 2015-01-13. 
  28. ^
  29. ^ "TCA 2015: BET takes on epic miniseries with 'Book of Negroes". Los Angeles Times. January 10, 2015. Retrieved 2015-01-13. 
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  31. ^ "Why I'm not allowed my book title". The Guardian. May 20, 2008. Retrieved 2015-01-13. 
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  33. ^ "Is Africa's Pain Black America's Burden?". The Walrus. February 2005. Retrieved 2015-01-13. 
  34. ^ "Meet You at the Door". The Walrus. January–February 2011. Retrieved 2015-01-13. 
  35. ^ "Adaption". The Walrus. January–February 2015. Retrieved 2015-01-13. 
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  40. ^ "Four Nova Scotians among Order of Canada honourees". The Chronicle-Herald, July 1, 2015.
  41. ^ "Lawrence Hill among writers honoured with Order of Canada". Quill & Quire, July 2, 2015.
  42. ^ "Forthcoming Lawrence Hill novel The Illegal optioned for film". Quill & Quire, June 29, 2015.
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