Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Book of Negroes to be Burned on June 22?

The CBC reports that unless the name of Lawrence Hill's award-winning The Book of Negroes is changed, a Dutch group called Foundation Honor and Restore Victims of Slavery in Suriname is planning on burning the book to protest the use of the word "negro" in the title.

Author Lawrence Hill, winner of the Commonwealth Award and many other awards for The Book of Negroes, received a letter from Roy Groenberg on behalf of the group who are descendents of the former Dutch colony Suriname.  According to Groenberg, "We struggle for a long time to let the word 'nigger' disappear from Dutch language and now you set up your Book of Negroes! A real shame!"
Hill has responded by explaining that he based his title on an actual historical document that was used to record names of over 3000 slaves who were British Loyalists during the American Revolution who were evacuated by the British and sent to Nova Scotia.  Ship lists, physical descriptions of the slaves and where they were bound were included.  Hill's intention was to bring this little known piece of history to light. Explains Hill, "I have found that when given the opportunity to see what I am doing in this book and with this title, readers understand that the title is not intended to be offensive, but that it is used historically, to shed light on a forgotten document and on a forgotten migration."

This is not the first time there has been controversy over the title of  The Book of Negroes.  The US publisher opted for Someone Knows My Name, as did the Australian publisher. In Quebec the book is titled Aminata, the name of the main character.

Update:  Lawrence Hill's response to the controversy has been published by the Toronto Star entitled, What Lawrence Hill tells Dutch Group Planning to Burn his Book.

Further Update:  It seems that the Dutch group has missed the point of Lawrence Hill's book completely and have burned the cover.  Greg Hollingshead, chair of The Writers’ Union of Canada, in a press release stated, “The burning of books represents censorship at its worst. While we recognize the sensitivity over the use of the word ‘Negro’ in the book’s title, The Book of Negroes is a real document and Mr. Hill uses it deliberately to underscore the plight of African Americans being shipped from New York to Nova Scotia in 1783.”

There is still time to read a book or two for the Banned Book Challenge. Set your own goal to read any number of banned or challenged books up until June 30, 2011. Then, send us reviews, opinions, etc.  Please register, using the form on the link.

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