The Dal Reads blog is pleased to post a contribution from the author, Lawrence Hill.
I was thrilled to hear that The Book of Negroes has been selected for Dalhousie Reads. Part of my enthusiasm stems from fact that much of the novel’s historical underpinnings have to do with the story of the Black Loyalists, before, during and (in the case of those who left Halifax to found the colony of Freetown in 1792) after their time in Nova Scotia. It strikes me as sad and troubling that so few Canadians have been exposed to such an interesting, dramatic and revealing part of our national history. To my way of thinking, high school history classes would be a whole lot more engaging if students had the opportunity to step into the story of the thousands of Blacks who chose to serve the British on the eventually losing side of the American Revolutionary War, and who then had their names entered into the British naval ledger “The Book of Negroes” before sailing to Nova Scotia in 1783, and who then faced such oppression in what they had hoped to be their “Canaan” that 1,200 of them turned around a decade later and left in a mass exodus for Sierra Leone. To me, it’s fascinating that the first “back to Africa” exodus from the Americas took place not from the Caribbean or the United States, as one might imagine, but from the shores of Halifax. Although many Canadians have not been introduced to this part of our history, the good news (in my view) is that when Canadians do have the opportunity to learn about this story, they jump right in and feel quite enriched to expand their awareness.
The other part of my enthusiasm about Dal Reads 2009 is that Nova Scotia feels like a second home to me, and that time and time again Nova Scotians have welcomed me into their homes, libraries, museums, archives, community centres and universities when I have come to do research or to give readings or talks from my books. One of the first literary readings I ever gave was at Dalhousie, when English professor Andy Wainwright invited me in 1993 to read from my just-published first novel, Some Great Thing. I remember being quite touched by the fact that a few people came out to my reading on the Dalhousie campus, despite the wicked snowstorm that had engulfed the city, and that each person there bought a copy of the book. Since then, I have returned many times to Nova Scotia, and am already anticipating the next visit with pleasure.
Thank you for honouring The Book of Negroes by selecting it for Dal Reads 2009, and I hope that the story excites you, and leads you to concur with my wry and playful observation that perhaps Canadian history isn’t so boring after all.