Recent Commonwealth Prize winner Lawrence Hill has an essay/review on black writing in the latest issue of Bookforum. Writing about the books his daughters are required to read in school, he notes that “one and only one book … purports to introduce them to the African-American experience.”
Can you guess? It’s Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird. And if they were interested in a contemporary film about the abolitionist movement in Great Britain, all they had to do last year was visit a suburban cinema to watch Amazing Grace, a movie that has the temerity to dramatize the life of abolitionist William Wilberforce while barely showing a black face or evoking any of the personal struggles endured by the peoples who insisted on shaking off the chains that bound them. If my daughters asked for another book about the experiences of slavery and segregation in America, chances are that a librarian or teacher would hand them Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, or perhaps The Confessions of Nat Turner by William Styron.