Lawrence Hill is the son of American immigrants — a black father and a white mother — who came to Canada the day after they married in 1953 in Washington, D.C. On his father’s side, Hill’s grandfather and great grandfather were university-educated, ordained ministers of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. His mother came from a Republican family in Oak Park, Illinois, graduated from Oberlin College and went on to become a civil rights activist in D.C. Growing up in the predominantly white suburb of Don Mills, Ontario in the sixties, Hill was greatly influenced by his parents’ work in the human rights movement. Much of Hill’s writing touches on issues of identity and belonging.
Hill’s first passion was running, and as a boy he dreamed of winning an Olympic gold medal in the 5,000 meters. But despite years of intense training and thousands of kilometres, he never managed to run quite fast enough. As a teenager, he consoled himself by deciding to become a writer instead, and at 14, he wrote his first story on his mother’s L.C. Smith typewriter. It was a bad story, and a good beginning.
Hill is the author of ten books of fiction and non-fiction. In 2005, he won his first honour for his work, a National Magazine Award for the article “Is Africa’s Pain Black America’s Burden?” published in The Walrus. But it was his third novel, The Book Of Negroes (HarperCollins Canada, 2007) — published in some countries as Someone Knows My Name and in French as Aminata — that brought his writing to broad public attention. The novel won several awards, including The Rogers/Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, both CBC Radio’s Canada Reads and Radio Canada’s Le Combat des Livres, and The Commonwealth Prize for Best Book, which came with a private audience with Queen Elizabeth II. The Book of Negroes television miniseries, which Hill co-wrote with director Clement Virgo, was filmed in South Africa and Canada and aired on CBC in Canada and on BET in the United States in early 2015.
Hill’s non-fiction book Blood: The Stuff of Life was published in September 2013 by House of Anansi Press. Blood is a personal consideration of the physical, social, cultural and psychological aspects of blood, and how it defines, unites and divides us. Hill drew from the book to deliver the 2013 Massey Lectures across Canada. The lectures were broadcast on the CBC Radio Ideas program. Blood: The Stuff of Life won the Hamilton Literary Award for non-fiction. In 2013, Hill published the essay Dear Sir, I Intend to Burn Your Book: An Anatomy of a Book Burning (University of Alberta Press).
His fourth novel, The Illegal, was published by HarperCollins Canada in September 2015 and will be published by WW Norton in the USA in January 2016.
Formerly a reporter with The Globe and Mail and a parliamentary correspondent for The Winnipeg Free Press, Hill also speaks French and Spanish. He has lived and worked across Canada, Baltimore, Spain and France. He is an honourary patron of Crossroads International, for which he travelled as a volunteer to the West African countries Niger, Cameroon and Mali, and to which he lends the name of his best-known character for the Aminata Fund, which supports programs for girls and women in Africa. Hill is also a member of the Council of Patrons of the Black Loyalist Heritage Society, and of the Advisory Council of Book Clubs for Inmates and is an honorary patron of Project Bookmark Canada. He has a B.A. in economics from Laval University in Quebec City and an M.A. in writing from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. He has received five honourary doctorates from Canadian universities, and in 2015 was appointed to the Order of Canada. Hill lives in Hamilton, Ontario and in Woody Point, Newfoundland with his family.