Meeting Lawrence Hill: Bestselling Author Of The Book Of Negroes, Social Activist & Amazing Canadian

If you’re following me on Instagram, you know that all week I was anticipating meeting bestselling author, Lawrence Hill. First, I have to share with you how I came to know about his lecture at UBC as part of The Vancouver Institute‘s lecture series.

Last November, I wrote to Lawrence Hill for a couple of reasons: to tell him that his work aligns with and inspires my own, and to ask if we might be able to meet when he came to Vancouver next (I knew he was planning a trip to B.C. to participate in the Book Clubs for Inmates program).

I had just launched Her Story with Karen Bannister  – a space for Canadian women to share personal stories of living with social injustice, and I had recently met with literary agents at the Surrey International Writer’s Conference who were interested in my passion project that took seed in my imagination after I read Hill’s Black Berry, Sweet Juice. Basically, I was pumped! I was moving my writing into a more purposeful (to me) arena – there was no stopping me from writing an email to another Canadian writer I knew would appreciate my endeavours. Aside from reading his books, I get updates via his Facebook page and know that he has a deep interest in growing and supporting the writing community; even if he was too busy to reply, I had a feeling my thoughts would be met with kindness.

I heard from his office assistant a few days later saying she would pass on my email to Lawrence and provided me with details of the two talks he would give at the University of British Columbia. The first was on Saturday April 1 and it was called Crossing Seas: Refugees in the World and in the Imagination. The second one is Tuesday April 4 and focuses on The Book of Negroes, probably his most famous work.

All that was left to do, then, was wait till April (!) and buy some books for him to autograph.

I arrived at UBC over an hour before the lecture was to begin. First of all, I went with my long-time friend Saira (fellow book-lover and Hill fan) who was a Queens University student. I went to Simon Fraser University, so together, we are completely unfamiliar with UBC. Second, this was a free event with first come, first served seating. You bet I wanted to make sure we got the best seats possible. It was actually really nice waiting for the lecture to start; Saira and I got to catch up and also talk about fuelling those parts of us we love and sometimes miss. Like our extreme book-nerdiness and insatiable love of intellectually-stimulating environments. (In other words, I’m worried my brain is atrophying secondary to motherhood).

Hill’s lecture inspired many, many thoughts (I scribbled down notes when I dared break the trance) but today I’ll share 3 ideas that jump to mind even without referring to those notes.

  1. Volunteer activism – getting involved – helping others because we can – provides us with some of the richest moments of our lives.
  2. Writers and other artists have an ability to shed light in the forgotten corners of our history and on current social climates, and share them in a way that can transform people.
  3. Canada has its own history of mistreating refugees (the Jews arriving from Europe in 1939 aboard the St. Louis who had to turn around and sail to imminent death at concentration camps; the South Asian community aboard the Komagata Maru arriving from Punjab, British India who were turned back after months at bay) and we must remain vigilant of how we treat those seeking asylum today.

During the Q&A period following his talk, I asked him what he thought needed to happen in Canada so that we could avoid the kind of political climate we see happening just south of the border. Of course, this is a huge question but I was looking for a simple response for the citizens of Canada. His thoughts? Keep your eyes open for instances of hate – name them, call them out. And don’t get too complacent about our country, believing that ‘that wouldn’t happen here’ because it has and it could again. This was the perfect material I needed for my next column for Peace Arch News which I had already decided was going to be about being mindful of our own social issues.

And of course, the highlight for me was having a conversation with Lawrence Hill while he signed my 3 books.

lawrence hill, book signing, author event, ubc, taslim jaffer, let me out creative

When I introduced myself as the writer who had emailed him about my project inspired by his memoir, he asked me really thoughtful questions about what I was writing; his enthusiasm basically fanned the flame to push me to the next phase of my work (I jokingly told him that I was at the ‘tell a famous author’ stage of my project). Whether my passion project becomes a bestseller or even a book, I know that as a writer it’s pretty much my job to chase the things I am curious about and see where they lead. Seeing that in action by some of my favourites has basically shown me that this way of life is possible.

I had such an amazing evening – not only did I get to hear one of my favourite authors speak about the issues I care deeply about, I also got to have a conversation with him as he signed my books. He remembered me as the writer who was inspired by his memoir and wrote to tell him so. (And that’s how I came to know about his lecture at UBC). He asked me what I was writing these days and was even kind enough to ask me to keep him posted on my project. I literally just wrote that so it would still feel real to me tomorrow morning! @talktosaira came with me and heard the whole thing, and I made her repeat the conversation to me several times so I wouldn’t forget the lovely details! Lawrence Hill is a stand-up Canadian and writer; we are so lucky to have his passionate, articulate voice pointing us in the direction of the things we ought to notice.

A post shared by Taslim Jaffer (@taslimjaffer) on

It was an incredible evening and one that will stand out when I look back on this year.

I encourage you to spend your time doing the things that fuel your unique spirits. And if you’d like to share what that is, please do so in the comments – I love hearing from you!

taslim jaffer, let me out creative

3 thoughts on “Meeting Lawrence Hill: Bestselling Author Of The Book Of Negroes, Social Activist & Amazing Canadian

  1. So awesome! Somehow I didn’t read your whole instagram post pre-meeting. I just saw the books on the shelf, not the mention of meeting him. Anyway, I already had plans on April 1st or I would have been there in a heartbeat. I could have shown you around my old home of UBC where I practically lived for 13 years. I only read Book of Negroes, but it moved me. I hope to read his other books too sometime, once I get through my current reading list.

    Anyway, so lovely that you’ve been able to be in touch and finally meet someone who inspires you.

    1. It’s important but doesn’t always happen consistently. Maybe some time we can do something creative together. We have a lot of similar interests 🙂

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