Author interacts with students

This week, Wilfrid Laurier University hosted several events featuring award-winning author Lawrence Hill, whose most famous work The Book of Negroes has sold over 500,000 copies in Canada alone.

Hill has come to Laurier on several occasions in the past, visits he described as “unequivocally positive,” stating that the Laurier community has always been “open, engaging and welcoming” – one of the reasons he accepted the offer to become a writer-in-residence on the campus from Sept. 27 to Oct. 1.

“It’s about fostering a community of writing by coming in and making myself available,” Hill said of his visit this week.

“Talking about my stuff but also, when possible, listening to other people talk to me about their interests in writing.”

Chair of the religion and culture department Carol Duncan said that writers-in-residence such as Hill embody the prominent liberal arts tradition at Laurier.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for members of the community to be able to interact with a very fine writer,” said Duncan, whose sentiments were also expressed by James Weldon, chair of the English and film department, who said having authors like Hill could have a positive effect on the image of the university.

“He’s given his time generously in a number of venues so that students can talk with him and meet him, discuss him, discuss his book, discuss the implications of his book and why he does what he does,” said Weldon.

Hill has made himself available for interaction through several on-campus events including a reading from The Book of Negroes, a book signing in the concourse on Sept. 27 and a speech in the Maureen Forrester Recital Hall on Sept. 28.

He will also visit the Brantford campus on Sept. 29 and return the next day to Waterloo for a guest lecture in an English contemporary Canadian fiction class.

“Students are so fabulous to communicate with, they’re generally radiant with enthusiasm and ambition and bright as all get-out,” said Hill. “There’s hardly anything more satisfying than connecting with students about your work.”

Taking advantage of Hill’s availability and willingness to communicate with students is an opportunity Weldon said should not be passed up.

“This is a moment where students who have been at the reading, have had contact with him, have had their books signed with him, they’ll remember this,” he said.

“It’ll be a moment that they really remember and it’s a part of education.”
Hill expressed his excitement at meeting with fans and academics alike on campus.

The author has academic connections to Duncan, with whom he worked on a documentary film project Seeking Salvation: A History of the Black Church in Canada, which won the American Wilbur Award for best national television documentary.

Duncan was also responsible for a number of Hill’s former visits to the Waterloo campus.

“Hill has had a long relationship with Laurier going back about a decade,” Duncan said. “A portion of The Book of Negroes was written over at Lucinda House, for instance.”

Hill’s work revolves primarily around issues of identity and belonging, with a focus on the history of slavery in a North American context.

Working to highlight the history of slavery in Canada, Hill said it’s an important component of our heritage that has been systematically swept under the rug.

Duncan commented that Hill’s works allow readers to “have a fuller view of Canada and the legacy of slavery.”

Through his weeklong visit, Hill hoped to foster a learning environment of dialogue surrounding literature and issues he finds important to Canadian culture and heritage.

“It’s important to know our history and know our stories and to celebrate and dramatize them in order to know ourselves.”