Author Lawrence Hill's Canada Reads-nominated book, The Illegal, centres on the story of Keita Ali, a marathoner who flees genocide in his country, looking for a better future. 

But Hill's interest in refugees goes past the page.

Together with his wife, Miranda Hill, and a handful of other households, Hill is part of a group working to raise money and support to help a Syrian refugee family settle in Hamilton.

"I can't imagine living as a Canadian and not wanting to do something." - Lawrence Hill

As part of that effort, Hill has joined with Olympian Clara Hughes, who herself at one time called Hamilton home, to host and speak at an event at Hillfield Strathallan College on March 7, in hopes of raising funds to help new Hamiltonians settle here.

The event, called "Clara Hughes and Lawrence Hill in Conversation," is supported by the CBC's Canada Reads.

"I'm happy to use the occasion of the book to talk about broader social issues that connect Canada to the world," Hill said. "I don't write in a vacuum; I write to engage in the world. Not just as a writer, but as a citizen. So I'm just proud to be there."

Hill said speaking at an event in B.C. to raise money for resettlement efforts there got him thinking about the chance to do something similar at home in Hamilton.

A 'wild and wonderful and difficult and terrifying place'

Hughes, who lived and trained in Hamilton for several years in the 1990s, is championing The Illegal in the Canada Reads battle of the books, going up against four other notable Canadians defending other Canadian books at the end of March.

Through her work with the international sports organization Right to Play, Hughes said she's been to many countries that people may want to flee from, developing "a deep human connection" with people who have stories of struggle.

"Not everybody can travel to these faraway places. But you can read about them," she said. "And that's the beautiful thing about literature."

"And I find, with a work of fiction like The Illegal, it brings you to this wild and wonderful and difficult and terrifying place that most of us will never know and quite frankly, most of us would never want to know," Hughes said.

Lawrence Hill on refugee resettlement6:36

Hill said it wasn't a question for him to do something to help as Canada welcomes thousands of Syrian refugees.

"This is hardly the first time that wars and famines and murderous things happening and bombs going off have forced people to become refugees, but this is certainly the largest refugee crisis in the history of the world — certainly since the end of the Holocaust and the end of the Second World War," he said.

"And I can't imagine living as a Canadian and not wanting to do something," Hill said. 

"I'm not pretending that I can do a lot. Maybe no one individual can do a lot. But we can do something."

Details for 'Clara Hughes and Lawrence Hill in Conversation'

When: Monday, March 7 at 7:30 p.m.

Where: Hillfield Strathallan College

How much: Tickets for the event are $35, with a student and senior rate of $20. Available (cash only) at the Art Gallery of Hamilton, My Dog Joe cafe, Hillfield Strathallan College, and Bryan Prince Bookseller.  

Proceeds: All proceeds to "Longer Table Refugee Support" and the refugee resettlement work of the Anglican Diocese of Niagara. Hill and Hughes are waiving their typical speaking fee, Hillfield Strathallan is donating the use of its auditorium. HarperCollins and Canada Reads also pitched in to cover some design and printing costs.

Another way to donate: The event will feature a silent auction.

Book sale: Attendees will have an opportunity to purchase any of the Canada Reads finalist books, as well as Hughes' memoir, Open Heart, Open Mind.

More information: