Saturday, January 10, 2009

Book of Negores

Fellow Book Babes Nicki and Virgina and I went to hear Lawrence Hill read from the Book of Negroes.

I closed my eyes and listened as a middle-aged man turn into an old black woman. What a story! Abducted as an eleven year old girl in Africa, Aminata becomes a slave in South Carolina and eventually returns to the coast of Sierra Leone in a back-to-Africa odyssey with 1,200 slaves.

The book is dedicated to Lawrence's daughter, Genvieve Aminata. He said he found the central voice of the character by imagining what it would be like for his child to undergo similar events. Being captured in Africa would be like being abducted by aliens, it would be something so unfathomable.

During the five years it took to write the book, he read no fiction. Lots of historical information, especially first-hand accounts from abolitionists, baby-catchers, slaves and others. When uncertain of his prose he had it vetted by historians.

Interestingly enough, The Book of Negroes is known by a different name in the States. In Canada, using the word 'Negro,' simply demonstrates you are a bit out of touch. But in the States, the same word in the same language has an entirely different and inflammatory connotation... saying it aloud is like inviting a punch to the face. The author came to see the wisdom of using a different title, especially after 100+ African Americans approached him, saying they would never have purchased the book with that title.

There were about 40 or so of us at the reading, a fairly intimate environment. A real privilege to hear Lawrence Hill speak in the voice he searched, for so many years.

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