Canadian Lawrence Hill captures Commonwealth Writers' Prize

Toronto author Lawrence Hill has captured the main Commonwealth Writers' Prize for his novel The Book of Negroes.

Toronto author Lawrence Hill has captured the main Commonwealth Writers' Prize for his novel The Book of Negroes.

Hill's book tells the true story of a Malian woman's journey from enslavement in Africa to bondage in South Carolina and finally back to Africa.

Hill was handed the prize on Monday in Cape Town, South Africa, where he's attending a literary festival.
Writer Lawrence Hill will get to meet the Queen after winning the main Commonwealth Writers' Prize. ((Lisa Sakulensky/HarperCollins Canada))

"It's particularly good to receive the prize in South Africa," Hill told the Guardian newspaper, "because its history mirrors my protagonist's journey from oppression to liberation."

The novel had already garnered the regional Commonwealth Writers' prize for best book.

Hill, who will be getting a $19,300 Cdn award, says his story is now available in the U.S. under the title Someone Knows My Name. The title was altered "because the publishers thought 'Negro' was an incendiary term."

The writer joins another African-Canadian author on the Commonwealth big winners' list: Austin Clarke, whose novel The Polished Hoe won in 2003.

In earning the prize, Hill has also been invited to an audience with the Queen at Buckingham Palace.

"I think it should be fun, particularly because my leading character also meets the British monarch in England to appeal for the end of slavery," noted Hill.

Bangladeshi nabs 1st book award

Meanwhile, the Commonwealth writers' organization also handed out an award for best first novel to Tahmima Anam for A Golden Age for her story about the Bangladesh war.

Anam's story follows the impact of the1971 war for Bangladeshi independence on one family.

"I wrote A Golden Age because I wanted the story of the war to reach an international audience," said Anam.

"It is a story of great tragedy, but also represents a moment of hope and possibility for my sometimes troubled country."

The Commonwealth Writers' Prize, established in 1987, includes winners such as Rohinton Mistry, Peter Carey and John Maxwell Coetzee.

Last year's winner was Lloyd Jones's Mister Pip, which went on to be shortlisted for the Booker Prize.

Authors must be citizens of one of the Commonwealth's 53 member countries, and write in English to be eligible for the prize.