The Book of Negroes wins Commonwealth regional honours

Canadian writers Lawrence Hill and C.S. Richardson are regional winners for the Commonwealth Writers Prize.

The End of the Alphabet best first novel in Canada and the Caribbean

Canadian writers Lawrence Hill and C.S. Richardson are regional winners for the Commonwealth Writers Prize.

Hill's The Book of Negroes was declared best book and Richardson's The End of the Alphabet was named best first novel in the region covering Canada and the Caribbean.

Regional winners receive £1,000 ($1,995 Cdn). Winners from four geographical areas compete for the Commonwealth Writers Prize to be announced May 18.

The Book of Negroes is a novel about a skilled midwife who is kidnapped by slave traders and travels through Nova Scotia, Sierra Leone and finally Britain in a journey that teases out many of the dark stories of colonial Canada.

The book is "a riveting account of the struggle for survival and self-determination," said Michael Bucknor of Jamaica, who chaired the judging panel.

Burlington, Ont.-based Hill said Canadians are shocked at stories of slavery in their own country.

"I think we have this innate emotional need to think of ourselves as morally superior to those Americans who did all those dastardly things down south in slavery," he told CBC News in a 2007 interview.

"And, often, we who think that don't know that slavery existed in our own backyard. There's a great resistance to looking at the fullness of our history."

Debut novel The End of the Alphabet is about a man given a month to live who sets out to complete his highly personal list of 26 things to see before he dies.

The jury described the book as "remarkable for its delicate rendering of an end-of-life experience."

Toronto-based Richardson is an award-winning book designer for Random House.

All but one of the writers shortlisted for the regional prize for Canada and the Caribbean were Canadian. A single Jamaican, Erna Brodber, author of The Rainmaker's Mistake, was nominated for best book in a field that also included Michael Ondaatje's Divisadero and Frances Itani's Remembering the Bones.

David Chariandy's Governor-General's Award-nominated Soucouyant was among the books nominated for best first novel.

Two Nigerians won the regional prizes for Africa — Karen King-Aribisala won best first novel for The Hangman's Game, and Sade Adeniran won the best first book for Imagine This.

In Southeast Asia and the South Pacific, the winners were Steven Carroll for The Time We have Taken and Karen Foxlee for The Anatomy of Wings.

With files from the Canadian Press