Author Hill speaks on race, place, and identity at ‘City of Words’ series

Posted in Articles, Canada, Identity Development/Psychology on 2012-02-07 03:08Z by Steven

Author Hill speaks on race, place, and identity at ‘City of Words’ series

University of Toronto, Scharborough

Kurt Kleiner

Writer Lawrence Hill has always felt attachment to people, not places. Nevertheless, the place he grew up – Don Mills in the early 1960s – shaped him as a person and as a writer.
Hill is the best-selling and critically acclaimed author of The Book of Negroes and many other works of fiction and non-fiction. He spoke at UTSC on Feb. 1 about the importance of a sense of place to a writer, about the surprise success of The Book of Negroes, and about the new novel he is just completing.
Hill, the son of a black father and a white mother, grew up in an all-white neighborhood. He had good friends, did well in school, played hockey, and usually faced no questions about his racial identity – until suddenly someone would fling a racial slur at him.
“I was so confused about who I was and how to perceive myself,” he says. “Nine days out of 10 I’d just be sailing along … It would come out of the blue. But that ambiguity was a great crucible in which to become a writer.”
The City of Words reading series is intended to give voice to writers who come from or write about Scarborough. More generally it examines the role of geography in shaping a writer, says Karina Vernon, professor of English at UTSC and lead organizer of the reading series. Not only is Don Mills right next door to Scarborough, but many of Hill’s experiences there are similar to those of people growing up in Scarborough now.
“Lawrence Hill is one of the most gifted authors in Canada today, and one of the foremost theorists of the black and mixed-race experience in Canada,” Vernon said as she introduced Hill…

Read the entire article here.

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The New Black

Posted in Articles, Canada, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive on 2012-02-04 18:09Z by Steven

The New Black

The National Post
Toronto, Canada
The Afterword: Postings from the literary world

Donna Bailey Nurse

The day after the Giller Awards I had breakfast with a friend at the Four Seasons Hotel in Toronto. The ceremony had been held there the night before and as I savoured my bagel and lox we discussed Esi Edugyan’s thrilling win for Half-Blood Blues.
“She seemed genuinely surprised,” said my friend, who was describing the event, for she had attended the gala and I had not. “She looked gorgeous. Her dress was amazing. Oh look,” she broke off, “there she is!”
I turned in my chair to see Edugyan and her husband, Steven Price, being seated at the table behind me. What good luck. I had been hoping to catch up with her at some point to congratulate her in person. Happily, here she was…

Half-Blood Blues, like Lawrence Hill’s The Book of Negroes, has become a bestseller. Some critics are surprised by the wide appeal of these two books, but it makes sense to me. Black stories are popular because they touch on two concerns close to every human heart: the desire for acceptance, to feel as though we belong; and the desire to be free to be who we are meant to be. Black Canadian stories feel quintessentially Canadian. The early novels of Austin Clarke, for example, started a vigorous discussion of hyphenated identities — the idea that we are either Irish-Canadian or Italian-Canadian or black-Canadian or Asian-Canadian, and that being Canadian means being two things (at least) at once.
As a literature of the diaspora, black Canadian novels are destined to make their mark: They articulate a language for black experience in an ostensibly post-racial world. Currently, African-American writers and black British writers — and black writers practically everywhere — are attempting to express what it means to be black in a world that claims race doesn’t matter. In this, black Canadian writers have been given a huge head start: Canada has always professed colour blindness…

…Bi-racial heritage is emerging as this literature’s dominant theme. Half-Blood Blues, Lawrence Hill’s Any Known Blood and Kameleon Man are all titles that allude to its significance. Even The Polished Hoe concerns a heroine that is black but looks white. Nearly every major character in Half-Blood Blues is mixed race; not only Afro-German Heiro, but also Sid, who is undoubtedly descended from a slave woman and her master. Chip, as it turns out, may possess Native-American blood.
Mixed heritage proves a wonderfully fruitful symbol. It is sometimes used to scrutinize the bi-racial dilemma of being caught between duelling cultures. Or it may address the anxiety fair-skinned blacks may feel about whether or not to pass for white. It can symbolize the struggle of black Canadians to reconcile the African and European aspects of their culture. A turbulent interracial romance may represent the overall challenges of race relations. Bi-racial anxiety and alienation lie at the heart of Half-Blood Blues. Altogether,  the title refers to a song the band records, the characters themselves, and a world where few accept that we are all at least two things at once…

Read the entire article here.

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Black Berry, Sweet Juice: On Being Black and White in Canada [Review]

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Canada, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive on 2011-06-18 22:14Z by Steven

Black Berry, Sweet Juice: On Being Black and White in Canada [Review]

Quill and Quire – Canada’s Magazine of Book News and Reviews
October 2001

Hugh Hodges, Associate Professor of English
Trent University, Peterborough, Ontario

Lawrence Hill, Black Berry, Sweet Juice: On Being Black and White in Canada, Harper Collins Canada, September 2001, 256 pages, Paperback ISBN: 9780006385080; ISBN10: 0006385087.

With Black Berry, Sweet Juice Lawrence Hill opens an overdue discussion of what racial identity means to Canadians of mixed race. It’s a worthwhile project, but Hill undermines his intentions by trying to address academics and casual readers at the same time. The book falls somewhere between memoir and sociological study, but achieves neither the warmth of the former nor the rigour of the latter.

Hill’s reflections on race are often inconsistent. He pays lip service to the idea that cultures and communities are open-ended, but tends to speak of them as if they were homogenous and closed. He also seems to change his mind several times about whether racial identity is chosen by an individual or something they are born with. He argues that in contemporary Canada people are free to self-identify, but suggests that the person of mixed heritage who chooses not to identify himself as black will find that “his own race [will] take a bite out of his backside.”

Read the entire review here.

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“The devil made the mulatto”: Race, religion and respectability in a Black Atlantic, 1931-2005

Posted in Africa, Biography, Canada, Dissertations, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United Kingdom, United States on 2010-11-18 23:12Z by Steven

“The devil made the mulatto”: Race, religion and respectability in a Black Atlantic, 1931-2005

University of Toronto
312 pages
Publication Number: AAT NR39517
ISBN: 9780494395172

Daniel R. McNeil, Lecturer in Media and Cultural Studies
Newcastle University, United Kingdom

According to The Historical Journal there has only been one scholarly study of mixed- race history. This text—New People: Mulattoes and Miscegenation in the United States—fails to address events after 1930 in any detail, and ends its historical analysis with a discussion of the mixed-race people who committed themselves to a “New Negro” group. In an attempt to cover this gap in the academic literature, my dissertation analyses the creative artistry of individuals who were born after 1930 and were told, by governmental agencies in the US, UK and Canada, that they had a Black father and a white mother. My first case study looks at Philippa Schuyler, the daughter of George Schuyler, the most prominent African American journalist of the early twentieth century. I acknowledge that George Schuyler’s journalistic peers marketed his daughter as a “Negro” child prodigy during the 1930s and 1940s, but I also document how she fashioned herself as a “mulatto” writer or a vaguely aristocratic “off-white” femme fatale during the 1950s and 1960s. My second case study looks at Lawrence Hill, a writer who grew up in the suburbs of Toronto during the 1950s and 1960s and has achieved a degree of prominence in Canada by casting himself as a middle-class Black “race man” like his African American father, the first director of the Ontario Human Rights Agency. Subsequent case studies investigate the legacy of the “Black is beautiful” movements of the 1960s on a wider variety of individuals—from working-class folks in Nova Scotia and Merseyside to American idols—and provide further evidence for my argument that a Black identity has been masculinized in opposition to the stigma attached to a “mulatto” identity associated with young “brown girls”. In doing so, I draw heavily on the work of Otto Rank, W.E.B Du Bois and Frantz Fanon. In particular, I link Rank’s ideas about creative artistry – that it was a masculine attempt to give birth to a new self, community or nation—to the theories of Du Bois and Fanon that defined “honest intellectuals” in a Black Atlantic against mixed-race women and children.

Purchase the dissertation here.

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Black Berry, Sweet Juice: On Being Black and White in Canada

Posted in Books, Canada, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Monographs, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science on 2009-12-15 20:07Z by Steven

Black Berry, Sweet Juice: On Being Black and White in Canada

Harper Collins Canada
September 2001
256 pages
Paperback ISBN: 9780006385080; ISBN10: 0006385087

Lawrence Hill

Lawrence Hill’s remarkable novel, Any Known Blood, a multi-generational story about a Canadian man of mixed race, was met with critical acclaim and it marked the emergence of a powerful new voice in Canadian writing. Now Hill, himself a child of a black father and white mother, brings us Black Berry, Sweet Juice, Hill: On Being Black and White in Canada, a provocative and unprecedented look at a timely and engrossing topic.

In Black Berry, Sweet Juice, Hill movingly reveals his struggle to understand his own personal and racial identity. Raised by human rights activist parents in a predominantly white Ontario suburb, he is imbued with lingering memories and offers a unique perspective. In a satirical yet serious tone, Hill describes the ambiguity involved in searching for his identity – an especially complex and difficult journey in a country that prefers to see him as neither black nor white.

Interspersed with slices of his personal experiences, fascinating family history and the experiences of thirty-six other Canadians of mixed race interviewed for this book, Black Berry, Sweet Juice also examines contemporary racial issues in Canadian society. Hill explores the terms used to describe children of mixed race, the unrelenting hostility towards mix-race couples and the real meaning of the black Canadian experience. It arrives at a critical time when, in the highly publicized and controversial case of Elijah Van de Perre, the son of a white mother and black father [Theodore “Blue” Edwards] in British Columbia, the Supreme Court of Canada has just granted custody to Elijah’s mother, Kimberly Van de Perre.

A reflective, sensitive and often humourous book, Black Berry, Sweet Juice is a thought provoking discourse on the current status of race relations in Canada and it’s a fascinating and important read for us all.

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Any Known Blood

Posted in Books, Canada, Media Archive, Novels, Slavery on 2009-12-15 19:52Z by Steven

Any Known Blood

Harper Collins Canada
528 pages
Paperback ISBN: 9780006391760; ISBN10: 0006391761

Lawrence Hill

Langston Cane V is 38, divorced and working as a government speechwriter, until he’s fired for sabotaging the minister’s speech. It seems the perfect time for Langston, the eldest son of a white mother and prominent black father, to embark on a quest to discover his family’s past—and his own sense of self.

Any Known Blood follows five generations of an African-Canadian-American family in a compelling story that slips effortlessly from the slave trade of 19th-century Virginia to the modern, predominantly white suburbs of Oakville, Ontario—once a final stop on the Underground Railroad. Elegant and sensuous, wry and witty, it is an engrossing tale about one man’s attempt to find himself through unearthing and giving voice to those who came before him.