Quill and Quire

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Lawrence Hill awarded Freedom to Read prize for his grace under fire

Lawrence Hill has been named the recipient of this year’s Freedom to Read Award for his “reasoned and eloquent response to the threat to burn his novel The Book of Negroes, according to a statement from The Writers’ Union of Canada chair Greg Hollingshead.

Last summer, the Hamilton author’s best-selling historical novel was targeted by a Dutch activist who objected to the use of the word negro in its title. From TWUC’s press release:

Roy Groenburg of The Netherlands, finding the use of the word Negro in the title of Mr. Hill’s novel offensive, burned the cover and publicly threatened to burn the book.

In response, Mr. Hill offered to speak to Mr. Groenburg. He also wrote an op-ed piece in the Toronto Star, which said, in part, Burning books is designed to intimidate people. It underestimates the intelligence of readers, stifles dialogue and insults those who cherish the freedom to read and write. The leaders of the Spanish Inquisition burned books, Nazis burned books.

The annual prize coincides with Freedom to Read Week, which kicks off Sunday with events across the country. Last year’s winner, John Ralston Saul, will receive his prize on Feb. 28 at a Toronto event organized by the Book and Periodical Council.