Canadian author Lawrence Hill has won yet another accolade for his much-celebrated novel The Book of Negroes, which on Friday was named the winner in CBC's annual Canada Reads competition.
The Book of Negroes, which recounts the tale of Aminata Diallo's journey from enslavement in Africa and North America to liberation and return home, was championed during the week-long competition by journalist Avi Lewis.
Hailing the book "a riveting historical tale," Lewis said The Book of Negroes is "much more than that. It's a soaring literary accomplishment — a book in which the pages seem to turn themselves. I'm delighted that the other panellists embraced this work and that many more Canadians will now share in its richness."
"I'm feeling humbled," Lewis admitted shortly after The Book of Negroes knocked out its final competitor: Fruit, a gay coming-of-age story by Brian Francis and championed by Vancouver author Jen Sookfong Lee.
Lee received praise from rival panelist actor Nicholas Campbell for her passionate defence of Fruit, which had helped eliminate his own book — Gil Adamson's The Outlander — during Friday's broadcast on CBC Radio.
Though Lee acknowledged having the impression from the beginning that The Book of Negros was destined to be the "book to beat," she said she felt "pleased as hell" that Fruit — Francis's debut novel — made it to the final.
"I feel like we've won in so many ways because [Francis's] book had the most to gain in this process, because it was the least known."
Other competitors this year included Mercy Among the Children by David Adams Richards, defended by singer Sarah Slean, and The Fat Woman Next Door is Pregnant (La grosse femme d'à côté est enceinte) by Michel Tremblay, translated by Sheila Fischman and championed by TV host Anne-Marie Withenshaw.
As this year's Canada Reads winner, The Book of Negroes will be celebrated in a month-long online book club hosted by writer and broadcaster Hannah Sung and read on CBC Radio's Between the Covers.
Its publisher, HarperCollins Canada, will donate copies of the novel to libraries across the country, and a portion of the profits from the book's sales will go to the National Indigenous Literary Association.
"I'm thrilled to have been included with the other four Canada Reads authors, whose works show the scope and strength of Canadian literature," Burlington, Ont.-based Hill said in a statement issued Friday.
"Thanks very much to Avi Lewis for being such a passionate and articulate advocate. I hope that this will encourage more readers to look again at our shared history and at the amazing resilience of the human spirit."
The Book of Negroes previously won both the Commonwealth Writers' Prize and Writers' Trust of Canada fiction prize while Hill himself was named author of the year last June at the Canadian Booksellers Association's Libris Awards.
The former journalist met with Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace following his Commonwealth win.