Censorship and book burning are still present in our lives. Lawrence Hill shares his experiences of how ignorance and the fear of ideas led a group in the Netherlands to burn the cover of his widely successful novel, The Book of Negroes, in 2011.
Why do books continue to ignite such strong reactions in people in the age of the Internet? Is banning, censoring, or controlling book distribution ever justified? Hill illustrates his ideas with anecdotes and lists names of Canadian writers who faced censorship challenges in the twenty-first century, inviting conversation between those on opposite sides of these contentious issues.
All who are interested in literature, freedom of expression, and human rights will enjoy reading Hill’s provocative essay.
Lawrence Hill is a journalist and novelist. His third novel, published as The Book of Negroes in Canada and Someone Knows My Name elsewhere, won the 2008 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best Book and the 2007 Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize.
Not long before they brought my brother, sister and me into the world, my parents had moved to Canada from Washington, D.C. Dad was black and Mom was white, and 1953 was no time to be marrying or living in the American South as an interracial couple. Toronto was better, but far from perfect.
While Dad was still a graduate student at the University of Toronto, he and my mother were unable to rent an apartment together. Nobody wanted an interracial couple as tenants. To secure a place for the two of them, Mom had to take on a surrogate white husband for a day—Don McFadyen, a close friend of theirs who played bass in a jazz band.
After the lease was signed, Don moved out and my father moved in, and my parents waited nervously to see how much of a stink the landlord would raise. Luckily, the landlord chose not to make an issue of it, and they were allowed to stay. I was born in 1957 in Newmarket, Ontario, and grew up in a Toronto suburb.
Throughout my childhood, stories of my parents’ marriage and of their subsequent work as pioneers in Canada’s human rights movement punctuated our kitchen table conversations. I was entranced by their ability to navigate injustice with humour and to become engaged Canadians without succumbing to bitterness.
Later, I used the stories of my ancestors as emotional fuel to write Any Known Blood (1997), a fictional family saga about five generations of men moving back and forth between Canada and the United States.