Author Lawrence Hill praises Manitobans for embracing refugees

The efforts of Manitobans to welcome Syrian refugees come as no surprise to Canadian author Lawrence Hill.

Award-winning novelist in Winnipeg to promote his latest book, The Illegal

Author Lawrence Hill is troubled by how much his dystopian view in The Illegal echoes current realities. (CBC)

The efforts of Manitobans to welcome Syrian refugees come as no surprise to Canadian author Lawrence Hill.

"Manitoba is a place of incredibly community. People care very much, they rally, they work together," he said while visiting CBC Winnipeg on Thursday.

Hill, who has now penned 10 books, has a strong connection to Winnipeg. His first novel, Some Great Thing (1992), is set in Winnipeg, where Hill worked as a journalist for some time. He now lives in Hamilton, Ont.

"Political arguments are divisive [in Manitoba], but community engagement is intense and beautiful. I'm not the least bit surprised [at the generosity]," he said. "I would totally expect that based on my great experiences in the province and the city of Winnipeg.

"Keep doing it and keep showing your humanity, and I will do the same in Hamilton."

Hill is in the city to promote his latest book, The Illegal. It centres on a young marathon runner named Keita Ali, who hails from a repressive, fictional African country and struggles to make a life and avoid being deported from his new home.

He's troubled by how much his dystopian view echoes current realities.

"I am distressed to see that some of the things I was imagining in the novel are now actually turning out to be true," he said.

"There are increasingly harsh measures around the world toward refugees. Some countries, such as Denmark and Switzerland, are instituting policies that will strip all refugees of their material belongings when they show up [there]."

Hill said he's pleased Canadians voted out the Conservative "regime" and that the Liberal government has a "much more generous attitude' toward welcoming refugees.

"We're doing pretty well but we could do better. We can fast-track others, too," he said.

Hill's 2007 novel The Book of Negroes won the 2007 Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize, the 2008 Commonwealth Writers' Prize for best book overall and Canada Reads 2009. It was adapted into a six-part miniseries for CBC-TV and took home nine trophies at the 2016 Canadian Screen Awards Wednesday night in Toronto.

"I've been very blessed by the book," he said.

Hill is following a similar path with The Illegal, which is being defended by Winnipeg's Clara Hughes for Canada Reads 2016. Hill is also co-writing a screenplay with director Clement Virgo for a miniseries based on the book. The pair also did the screenplay for The Book of Negroes.

"We seem to be good at different things, so we work very well together. Normally, I just work along, in my pajamas, and I get to call the shots as a novelist," Hill said.

Join CBC's Terry MacLeod for a conversation with Lawrence Hill on Thursday evening at the Gas Station Theatre.

The free event will also feature two new Canadians sharing their personal stories of seeking refuge.

  • Doors open at 7 p.m. for reception and book signing.
  • Event begins at 7:30 p.m.
  • The evening also includes a musical performance, light refreshments and a cash bar.