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One Book, one encounter with the author

It isn’t often that you get the chance to come face to face with your favourite author, or the person who penned a story that truly gripped you. Oftentimes readers will get engrossed in a novel, but never put a face to the storyteller, or get to thank him or her for the experience.

Elmira’s Mary Austin got to do just that recently, meeting Lawrence Hill, author of The Book of Negroes. That novel is Waterloo Region’s One Book selection this year.

Elmira resident Mary Austin’s wall hanging, a tribute to Lawrence Hill’s novel The Book of Negroes, was signed by the author.
Elmira resident Mary Austin’s wall hanging, a tribute to Lawrence Hill’s novel The Book of Negroes, was signed by the author.

An active member of her local book club, Austin also got the chance to show Hill a wall-hanging that she had created, inspired by his novel.

“I made the hanging mostly to share with my book club and others who have read the book. I never expected [Hill] to see it.”

When Austin heard Hill was to visit Waterloo-Oxford District Secondary School in Baden on Sept. 16, she decided to go and see if the writer would sign a piece of the fabric for her to sew onto the hanging. Austin said she thought about the project for a couple of months, but the hanging only took a few days to make. The half-dark, half light appearance resembles the book’s cover, and Austin says she believes it also represents protagonist Aminata Diallo’s life: half shaded in darkness.

The book has been very well received, its appeal aiding in its selection as the One Book for 2009, said Katherine Seredynska, chair of the One Book, One Community committee. The organization engages readers in the shared experience of reading the same book.

“The Book of Negroes has been a phenomenally popular One Book, One Community choice here in the region,” she noted. “Book sales and library circulations are outstanding. Book clubs have embraced the book. Individuals have read it and discussed it. They have participated in a bus tour of local black history and will attend many other events held here this month in the region.”

The book chronicles the true story of Aminata Diallo, a girl who was abducted as an 11-year-old child from her village in West Africa and forced to walk for months to the sea in a coffle—a string of slaves—and sent to live in servitude in South Carolina. Years later, she served the British in the Revolutionary War and registered her name in the historic “Book of Negroes,” an actual document that provides a short but revealing record of freed Loyalist slaves who requested permission to leave the U.S. for resettlement in Nova Scotia, only to find that the haven they sought was steeped in an oppression all of its own. The One Book, One Community committee describes Aminata’s eventual return to Sierra Leone – passing ships carrying thousands of slaves bound for America – as an ‘engrossing account of an obscure but important chapter in history that saw 1,200 former slaves embark on a harrowing back-to-Africa odyssey.’
The Book of Negroes has won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best Overall Book, the Rogers’ Trust Fiction Prize, and is the winner of CBC’s Canada Reads. Austin said she is not sure what she will do with the wall hanging now but hopes that it might be displayed in a library or at a book club somewhere.
“I just enjoyed the book so much that I wanted to find a way to express how I feel about it. This was the best way I knew how.”

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