Though he was told the Queen hadn't read his Commonwealth Prize-winning novel The Book of Negroes, Canadian author Lawrence Hill said he was pleasantly surprised by all her questions about the book when he met the monarch Thursday.
Hill, whose meeting was scheduled after he won the literary prize this spring, described his 15-minute audience with the Queen as "great, actually."
"She was much more conversational and relaxed than I had imagined that she would be, so I was able to enjoy myself and feel I was speaking to not just a queen but an ordinary person in conversation," said the Burlington, Ont.-based writer, whose credits also include Any Known Blood and Black Berry, Sweet Juice: On Being Black and White in Canada.
"Most of the conversation had to do with the historical questions the book explores, and she was really quite struck [by the story]."
Hill's novel tells the story of an African girl who is abducted and forced into slavery in the U.S. She eventually escapes to Nova Scotia but still meets segregation and abuse in Canada. It takes its title from the real, handwritten ledger of African American refugees evacuated from New York to Nova Scotia on British ships following the American War of Independence in 1783.
"The Queen was fascinated to hear [that] this document is housed in its original version in the National Archives here in the U.K., in Kew, just a short distance from Buckingham Palace, so she wanted to know more about this document," Hill said in a telephone interview.
The book, which was redubbed Someone Knows My Name for its U.S. release, won the Canada and the Caribbean regional Commonwealth Writers Prize in March. It went on to scoop the main prize, worth nearly $20,000, in May.