Ann Canadian literary icon Lawrence Hill is best known for his novels book of blackswas adopted into the mini-series in 2015, illegalLast winter, he ventured into children’s literature for the first time. Beatrice and Croc Harrya captivating fantasy work that mixes talking crocodiles and tarantulas with difficult and pertinent issues such as racial violence, oppression and the legacy of slavery.
Mzwandir Ponkana: What first attracted you to writing and literature?
Lawrence Hill: I had a disciplinary father who didn’t want me to bother him unnecessarily. From the age of 6, when I asked for permission to get a cat, buy my first pair of blue jeans, etc., he would make me write to him and justify my request. I became so excited to write.
MP: Who are your main literary influences?
left: As a teenager, I devoured James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Gwendolyn Brooks, and more. Currently, I love his Omar El Akkad work. We write about similar things.person forced by violence Leave where they came from and go somewhere else for safety. Another her is Susin Nielsen, a Vancouver author who writes fiction for middle school and young adults. She’s pretty dexterous and funny.I was trying to be a little clever and funny Beatrice and Croc Harry.
MP: The transition from adult fiction to children’s fiction must be difficult. Was the experience what you expected?
left: It was more freewheeling and ecstatic fun than any writing I have ever experienced. I hoped that the energy and joy and emotional playfulness felt on the pages would radiate from the pages and that the readers would notice the enthusiasm. I took a look.
It’s definitely a children’s book, but it’s also a book for people of all ages who are willing to step into the story and have a young mind when they read it. Even what I read has greatly enriched my life. And I still love literature, mostly for children.
MP: This book emphasizes the affirmation of blackness, which is so important for black children. What was your personal relationship with black people growing up like?
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left: My parents were an interracial couple. Both are American. They married in his South in 1953, moved to Toronto, and co-founded the Ontario Black Historical Society. I grew up immersed in Black culture, history, and literature. My parents were very vocal people. My dad shared stories about growing up in America as a black man and spending time as an African-American soldier in World War II. His story fascinated my brother and me.
I, on the other hand, grew up in the early 1960s in an all-white suburb of Toronto called Don Mills. I had to work to move into a conscious, positive sense of my own blackness. Part of that was through writing and reading that opened up my world. And part of that has been through travel — from visiting black families in the United States to living and working in different countries in Africa.
MP: Writing has clearly played a role in shaping your identity. How did that affect your relationship with Blackness?
left: in every way. It’s one of the tools I use to assert, affirm, and celebrate my blackness. Becoming an artist has also been a way for me to explore and celebrate the experience of the Black diaspora. A lot of people have this idea that the black experience is something completely different. I want to connect them by exploring the lives of people on the move.
But writing about black identity is also writing about human experience.In order to arrive at a universal observation, I focus on specific things, primarily black experiences. When you read Munro, you don’t say, “Oh, she writes about white people.” We admit that her dramatization of those lives is, in a way, an expression of humanity. .
MP: Do you hope this book will help educate children about this history?
left: of course. But let me tell you, as a college professor who loves education, I’m not so sure my books educate readers as much as I hope they inspire them to learn more. loves contemporary and historical exploration of black history and culture, but encountering the dramatic struggles of one individual is one of the most effective ways to spark the human imagination. . Reading history books is one thing. It’s quite another to be immersed in a novel, to be stirred by it, to swim in its fictional world.
MP: Another important theme of the book is restorative justice. Why do you think this is an important message?
left: I have been a volunteer at the Prison Book Club for the past 15 years.It inspired the way I came to imagine Beatrice and Croc HarryEarly in the novel, we learn that one of the main characters, Croc Harry, has done something horribly wrong. He has a violent history, but that’s not how we first meet him. It was to show. Then the reader has the opportunity to see his multidimensionality.
“I don’t believe in disrespecting children. I think they are much more intelligent and conscious than we give them credit for.”
When I go to jail, I don’t ask people what they’re in for. that’s not my job. I’m there as a creative writing teacher or someone to chat about books. Meeting prisoners and hearing their stories before knowing their purpose was a way to learn something about their humanity before learning the bad.
I believe people should be given the opportunity to engage in restorative justice. Even if it is the perpetrator of a terrible crime, the person must be given a chance to make amends. Some may never make amends, but you have to believe in the concept of rehabilitation. In other words, the human spirit can be improved.
MP: We often think that children cannot understand difficult ideas. you’re up for this challenge. why?
left: Children live in war zones. Children today see people being bombed and killed.They see their parents drowning as they try to cross Head to the Mediterranean Sea and escape the terrifying situation. They experience the most devastating things a human can experience. I don’t understand why they can’t read about them either.
I don’t want to be condescending to my children and write a fun fairy tale. I think some kids are ready to read this book and some are not. But I don’t believe in telling children. I think they are much more intelligent and conscious than we give them credit for.
MP: Do you think our society generally dislikes talking about difficult topics?
left: yes. In some areas, people don’t want to face these problems, and they don’t want their children to face them either. Would you like to see it?” he said. Why do we need more stories about pain? ”
every generation will have Finding ways to reconcile human experience, human history, human atrocities, and human goodness. Our great-grandchildren will talk about the Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide. Those who live long after we are dead will be interested in understanding where we were wrong and where we were right. Why shouldn’t they look into these issues?
I want to be at the forefront of that. Obviously, I know my books are not for all children or all parents. However, we hope that children and parents will be happy to step into some of the challenging themes raised therein.
MP: Do you think there has been an increase in awareness of black history in Canada in recent years?
left: When I was growing up in Toronto schools in the 1960s, there was not a single reference to being black in any way, from public schools to college. What I learned about black history as a child came from my parents and my own research. we have come a long way. We now have teachers who teach black literature and embrace black history. We may invite speakers for Black History Month, and I think this is a good thing and a worthwhile thing to do.
These things shouldn’t be limited to the coldest and shortest months of the year, but I like the idea that we’re celebrating history. Add a C for Canada. Better than F, but nowhere near A.
MP: So what do you think about Black History Month? Is there room for improvement?
left: When my parents co-founded the Ontario Black Historical Society in 1978, one of their first initiatives was to celebrate Black History Month. The idea is important given that many people in this country are unaware of black history, experiences and culture. It can tell you a little bit about what existed, but it doesn’t tell you anything about Canadian history. I think it speaks to our Canadian identity and our desire to feel morally superior to other people by focusing on their problems rather than ours.
Could Black History Month be better? Sure. Sometimes people ask me, “Will you come and speak at my school during Black History Month?” And I say: April? ‘ And they’ll say, ‘No, this she can only do in February. That’s wrong. Black history can be celebrated and explored at any time of the year.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.first appeared in broad viewThe title of the January/February 2023 issue is “Young Wisdom”.
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