10 for the Top 10: Lawrence Hill answers the Canada Reads Questionnaire

I think it's safe to say that The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill has been the biggest Canadian book of the decade: winner of the 2008 Commonwealth Writers' Prize for overall best book and 2009 champion of Canada Reads; more than 500,000 copies sold in this country alone. The Book of Negroes is the remarkable saga of Aminata Diallo, a young African girl who is captured, enslaved and taken to North America at the height of the slave trade. She eventually finds her way to freedom in New York, then to Nova Scotia and eventually back to Africa. In this epic, richly detailed novel, Lawrence takes readers around the world and through a disturbing time in history through the experience of an unforgettable protagonist. Given the book's impact, it's not surprising to see it crack our Top 10 list of the essential Canadian novels of the decade.

Lawrence Hill The Book of Negroes

Pitch Canada your novel in three lines or less.

Aminata Diallo, an 18th-century African woman, struggles to survive with her soul intact after she is stolen from her childhood village and sent across the Atlantic Ocean into slavery. She spends the rest of her life trying to return home.

Which Top 10 book would you want to defend on Canada Reads (other than your own)?

Three Day Road.

What's your favourite bookish place in Canada?

My favourite bookish place in Canada is the place where I am writing. Most of that time, it's above Bryan Prince Bookseller in Hamilton, Ontario.

Which Canadian author (alive or dead) would you most like to meet?

Alice Munro.

Who is your favourite fictional character and why?

Ignatius J. Reilly in A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. You have only to read the first line of the novel to love him. Brilliant, infantile, quixotic, colourful — perfect on paper but you'd never want him in your life!

What did you want to be growing up?

A writer.

What would you be if you weren't a writer?

A painter.

What's your favourite encounter with a reader or most memorable fan moment?

My most memorable fan moment is also my most recent — last night, while watching my 16-year-old son Andrew's hockey game in Burlington, Ontario, I met a 14-year-old Grade 9 student named Grace Kelly (I kid you not!) who began to speak to me about how much she enjoyed my first novel, Some Great Thing. It was published before she was born, so she considered that it was written in another era.

What book has moved or affected you most in the past year?

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin.

Which Canadian personality do you want to have defend your book?

Michaëlle Jean, the former governor general of Canada.

The Book of Negroes was originally published in 2007 by HarperCollins Canada. It can be found at fine independent bookstores across the country.

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