Toronto writer Lawrence Hill’s The Book of Negroes was a Canadian literary sensation, selling 500,000 copies in 2009, the same year it won Canada Reads.
The story of a young girl stolen from her African home and sold into slavery in the U.S., the book charts a little-known piece of history – a 1783 document, the real Book of Negroes – documenting African-Americans who were loyal to Britain and migrated to Nova Scotia following the War of Independence.
Brainerd Blyden-Taylor is artistic director of the Nathaniel Dett Chorale, a professional chamber choir dedicated to the performance of Afrocentric music. He was so impressed with Hill’s work, he wanted to set it to music.
"The book itself is so powerful, such a magnificent journey through an extraordinary life, the joys and sorrows that happened on the plantations in the Carolinas to — you could pull down any aspect of it. The challenge has been how do we share the arc of the book? How do we give people a feel of the book?" he told CBC News.
A Tuesday performance in Toronto by the Chorale and the Joe Sealy Quartet will attempt to capture the emotional resonance of The Book of Negroes. It mixes readings by Hill with multimedia elements and musical selections spanning folk, classical, spirituals and jazz.
According to Hill, his brother Dan got all the singing talent in the family, so he’s glad his role is restricted to reading excerpts from his book.
Voices of the Diaspora…The Book of Negroes will be performed Tuesday at Koerner Hall in Toronto.