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An Interview with James Randi (Part Three)

Interviewer: Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Numbering: Issue 13.A, Idea: Outliers & Outsiders (Part Nine)

Place of Publication: Langley, British Columbia, Canada

Title: In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Web Domain: http://www.in-sightjournal.com

Individual Publication Date: February 15, 2017

Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2017

Name of Publisher: In-Sight Publishing

Frequency: Three Times Per Year

Words: 2,965

ISSN 2369-6885

Abstract

An interview with James Randi. He discusses: James Hydrick’s false claim and trick; Sylvia Browne’s and James van Praagh’s false claims and tricks; the purported spoon bending of Uri Geller; scientific education in the US; and understanding principles of certains fields and religion as the big problem.

Keywords: James Hydrick, James Randi, James van Praagh, scientific education, Sylvia Browne, Uri Geller.

An Interview with James Randi: Conjuror/Professional Stage Magician; Founder, James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) (Part Three)[1]

*Footnotes in & after the interview, & bibliography & citation style listing after the interview.*

*This interview has been mildly edited for clarity and readability.* 

7. I want to get more into the career and professional skeptic work.

Sure.

I’m sure you’ve been asked these questions a couple of hundred times. You’ve exposed fakers in the New Age, in various religious movements. You have called New Age “newage” to rhyme with sewage. James Hydrick, what was his false claim, and what was the trick behind it, in brief?

Hydrick. I feel very sorry for Hydrick. I believe he is still incarcerated because he’s not a safely sane person. He showed up on television, and I gave him a very simple test, as simple as it can get because I knew what he was doing. He was blowing on the pages of a telephone book to make them turn over. I happen to have a book called Flim-Flam!. You may have heard of it.

(Laugh)

Yes.

(Laugh)

I keep it out on the desk most of the time. I assure you.

That is an understated part of your legacy, inventing terms.

(Laugh)

Yeah, of course. The trick was having the page slightly curled at the leading edge and then Hydrick was simply blowing, and it would lift and fold back, you see. He had to break the back of the book, so to speak, a good deal, first of all. He did it very cleverly. Then he turned his head away by the time the page had started to move. That’s pretty clever, and hard to do. He learned that trick in prison because he had a violent past. He got locked up in prison for several things, which are not of importance.

When he got out, he showed the trick to somebody. They said, “That’s supernatural!” He got a couple of people to set up some sort of a temple or other. He thought, “Oh boy, this seems like a real way to break into society.” Some very wealthy people offered him some money to go ahead and start certain temples and religious movements going. Of course they didn’t understand it was a trick. They weren’t terribly smart.

So, he was on his way to doing that, and then we got on television for the test and Hydrick failed. What I did was distribute Styrofoam pellets – packing pellets – all around the edges of the book. If he were to blow like that to turn the page, you’d see – whoosh! – clearly what he was doing. Hydrick looked amused during the taping, which was in Los Angeles. We had to turn off all of the air conditioning in the TV studio. In those days, in the middle of the summer, you didn’t do that because everyone would be very unhappy. They actually had to send the studio audience to the cafeteria, then quiet the whole place down, make sure everything was still, and ask them to come in very carefully and not disturb the air currents or anything like that.

Hydrick was totally unable to do anything impressive. He walked around the thing for over 20 minutes. Now, this was taping/studio time, very expensive in those days, that was not going to be a part of the program. They’d have to edit it way down. Mark Goodson was the producer. I remember, he was walking around saying, “Money, money, money, my god! This is costing a fortune.” To have the studio two or three hours more than they needed it, was an expensive rental, but the show worked out very well for me. Hydrick was about to get very violent.  I had to have two bodyguards. Oh yeah…

Hydrick was a Kung Fu guy. Any demonstration of Kung Fu against my poor body would not be welcome. They protected me, put me in a limo to take me back to the hotel. That program made quite a stir, and Mr. Hydrick lost his sponsorship by those wealthy people who wanted to start a temple to study his wonderful powers. It’s too bad because he really was a sick man. He later got locked up for acts of violence, and he called me a few times – about twice a year. He’d ask generalized questions, but I knew what was going on. He was looking for me to make some kind of appeal for him. It was something I could not handle.

I wouldn’t know how to go about doing that sort of thing. They had decided to keep him beyond the time he was sentenced to, because he was very violent and likely to be a danger to society. I don’t know under what circumstances he is being held now. I trust that it is reasonably comfortable for him, but that’s a lost life that could have been a much more useful one. Life could have been kinder to him, but it just didn’t work out that way. That’s James Hydrick, yeah.

8. Two more prominent names come to mind, especially with your interaction with them, purported mediums and psychics like Sylvia Browne and James van Praagh. What were their false claims, and what, just in brief, are the tricks behind that?

You should get a copy of my book, Flim-Flam! The stories are told in there. But Sylvia Browne was doing readings for people, really badly. She was so bad at what she did. She would, first of all, do them by telephone. You would have to reserve time – and pay for it as much as two years in advance, to get a reading from her. She’d charge, I think, $800 or something like that to read you over the telephone. And she smoked all of the way through it. I have recordings right here, in fact, of her, that people sent me because she would give them a tape of the reading, a little cassette tape. You may remember cassette tapes.

(Laugh)

It’s very interesting to hear some of them. You can play any one of them, and you’ll hear pauses in it, her drawing on a cigarette. You can hear the crackle of the cigarette, you know.

(Laugh)

Because she’s got a mike right up against it. “Well now, dearie…” She always spoke like she had gravel in her throat. I don’t know what killed her, but I think it was throat cancer. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that was the cause. She had a big staff working for her. She’d keep people waiting for years – literally. She’d already have the money a couple of years in advance, in many cases. She’d call them up, talk to them on the phone, and always tell them the same things. “You have to eat more so-and-so” – different foods she’d recommend to them. She’d often recommend various throat medicines, probably the ones she took for what she had.

In my latest new book, in the appendices, I’ll have a whole “reading” by her and every “puff” in the reading, as well. A very interesting woman, but absolutely cruel, savage, and very, very damaging. She got people really believing her. Some mail I got from people after they had their reading and listened to it again on the tape, then they realized just how bad it was, how absolutely without any trace of reality, or use, or any moral whatsoever. She was just a terrible person. I think, an evil person, and she made a lot of money on it. You were saying “James van Praagh”?

Yes.

James van Praagh, I think, is easily transparent. What he does is the same old thing, called “cold reading.” You say, “I’m getting an M or an R.”

(Laugh)

“M, R, maybe an N, I’m not sure.” People speak up and ask, “Martin?” and he says, “Yes, Martin, they call him Marty as far as I understand.” These people are reasonably good at it, but not good enough if you really listen carefully to what’s being said. In many cases, the written notes that the victims would send them – along with the check, of course, for the reading – would have that mentioned: “I’m going to ask you about Martin.” Van Praagh would start the conversation with “I am getting an M. I don’t know whether it is Marge, Martin, or something important. Is that it? Is that it?” This is how they do it. The people that send in the letters often forget that they wrote that part in their letter.

9. Another individual is Uri Geller, the purported spoon bender.

(Laugh)

Well, he is a spoon bender. Any fool can bend a spoon.

(Laugh)

Unless you’re a centipede or something like that, and it’s too big for you. What always astonished me about Geller, he appeared in libraries and men’s clubs and things like that, you see, and if you bring a spoon to him, he picks up the spoon, but he picks it up like this – with both hands. But hey! I’m 88 and I can pick up a dozen spoons in one hand!

Right, he’s got a prepped spoon.

Not necessarily, no. Now, I can hold a spoon in one hand, but Geller has to pick it up in both hands like this, he then turns away from you and says, “Come over here” and you see the arms, and the shoulders, go like this! And then when he turns back to you, he’s holding the spoon concealed in such a way that you can’t see it’s already bent. It’s hanging out of his hand like that, and then very slowly it appears to bend over.

In any case, it’s easily seen how he does it. He just slowly reveals the bend by concealing his hand like this, and it appears to have been bent. If you see it, it’s so obvious. But one thing about Geller: he is a very good magician. Magicians have to be aware of where people’s eyes are going. I swear, even with the glasses that I’m wearing, I see things out of the corners of my eyes, and I can see whether I’ve been twigged, which is the term for “discovered”. We know not to do it that way.

Geller is very good at that. Sometimes, he’ll just throw the spoon away and say, “No, I don’t want to do that anymore,” then he’ll walk across the room and do something else. He has now said that he does not want to be known as a “psychic” anymore, but wants to be known as “a mystifier.” That’s the term he told an audience. “A mystifier” doesn’t translate well into German, nor into Hungarian. And his character? He now says that his character has been completely changed, now that he’s a “mystifier”. Duh!

He’s very clever, no question about that, but when you – ahem! – read my 11th book called A Magician in the Laboratory, Appendix number 7 has a complete account of where two of the so-called scientists fell for Geller at Stanford Research Institute, in those days. It’s called something different today – “Stanford Research International”. They fell for it completely. They got literally – literally – millions of dollars from the government and from different agencies as well, and from the Department of Defence.

The DOD decided “There must be something to this. He must have some powers. I wonder if we could use them.” They soon found out he didn’t have any, but they’d already spent the money. Stanford Research International did very, very well off that. They’ve been happy about that ever since. If you write to them or the DOD and ask about Geller, they will not respond to you at all. They won’t answer requests for information because, I think, they’re rather hugely embarrassed over what that did to them.

Of course, they wrote books on it and everything else. They got these tens of millions of dollars in budgets to deal with. But Geller is no longer taken seriously, even in the so-called psychic world.

10. We do have accounts of just general principles. We do have surveys that do kind of take account of some countries’ level of scientific knowledge, if you take an average citizen. For instance, in the United States, belief in evolutionary theory is rather low. In Canada, it is higher by a significant margin. In the UK, it is a bit higher than in Canada.

Yes, this is something quite serious. Education with regard to science in the US has just deteriorated. It’s shameful.

11. In addition to this, people don’t need to memorize facts, necessarily, because Google and the Internet can expedite the searching of the information, but the understanding of the principles of the understanding of certain fields – evolution by natural selection, plate tectonics and continental drift, even just deep cosmic time where you’re talking about a 13.8 billion years old universe, a Big Bang cosmology universe…

…Remember that religion enters into this too. And there are many millions of people out there who believe the Earth formed 2,000 years ago. Some say 1,200 years because they want to be stupider than the other people.

(Laugh)

They have no idea how long rocks take to form, how they form, and why they come into existence. They have no knowledge of this. Religion? Religion is the evil giant here. I’m an atheist, but I’m not an atheist just because I don’t believe in this sort of thing. I searched for answers, as a kid, and the answers I got were all stupid. They asked me to just believe things. They’d hammer a Bible and say, “It’s in this book!” I’d always try to read the Bible. I didn’t understand what I was reading, and when I asked them for an explanation, they said, “You have to read a long time before you understand.” I don’t want to read books for most of my life before I find out what they really mean to say.

(Laugh)

Because books are easy to put together: verbs, adjectives, you know, nouns, that’s not too difficult to do, but that’s not the way it’s done. I’ll state that religion is stupid in the first place, in my estimation, it doesn’t hold water, at all. There is no basis for it. And evolution is an absolutely wonderful, beautiful, beautiful fact. And DNA, come on! The beautiful things we can know about the real world so overpower the superstitious end of things, in my estimation.

It’s just wonderful. The truth is much more beautiful. I can appreciate a sunset or a sunrise, though I admit that I like sunrises better than sunsets, at my age.

(Laugh)

But I can go out there and watch the clouds turning orange and whatnot, and be much at peace with the universe that I see in between the trees here in Florida. It doesn’t make it any less beautiful. It makes it more beautiful because I realize the Sun didn’t go behind the trees. No! The Earth turned away and that made the Sun appear to go away – we turned away from the Sun, it didn’t go away from us. Get that mindset going for you, that will help you understand a great deal, a great deal more. It is much more beautiful than the superstitious angle or point of view.

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Conjuror/Professional Stage Magician; Founder, James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF).

Appendix II: Citation Style Listing

American Medical Association (AMA): Jacobsen S. An Interview with James Randi (Part Three) [Online].February 2017; 13(A). Available from: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-james-randi-part-three.

American Psychological Association (APA, 6th Edition, 2010): Jacobsen, S.D. (2017, February 15). An Interview with James Randi (Part Three)Retrieved from http://www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-james-randi-part-three.

Brazilian National Standards (ABNT): JACOBSEN, S. An Interview with James Randi (Part Three). In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 13.A, February. 2017. <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-james-randi-part-three>.

Chicago/Turabian, Author-Date (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott. 2017. “An Interview with James Randi (Part Three).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 13.A. http://www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-james-randi-part-three.

Chicago/Turabian, Humanities (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott “An Interview with James Randi (Part Three).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 13.A (February 2017). http://www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-james-randi-part-three.

Harvard: Jacobsen, S. 2017, ‘An Interview with James Randi (Part Three)In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 13.A. Available from: <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-james-randi-part-three>.

Harvard, Australian: Jacobsen, S. 2017, ‘An Interview with James Randi (Part Three)In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 13.A., http://www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-james-randi-part-three.

Modern Language Association (MLA, 7th Edition, 2009): Scott D. Jacobsen. “An Interview with James Randi (Part Three).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 13.A (2017):February. 2017. Web. <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-james-randi-part-three>.

Vancouver/ICMJE: Jacobsen S. An Interview with James Randi (Part Three) [Internet]. (2017, February; 13(A). Available from: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-james-randi-part-three.

License and Copyright

License

In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at www.in-sightjournal.com.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen, and In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 2012-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen, and In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  All interviewees co-copyright their interview material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

An Interview with James Randi (Part Two)

Interviewer: Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Numbering: Issue 13.A, Idea: Outliers & Outsiders (Part Nine)

Place of Publication: Langley, British Columbia, Canada

Title: In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Web Domain: http://www.in-sightjournal.com

Individual Publication Date: February 8, 2017

Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2017

Name of Publisher: In-Sight Publishing

Frequency: Three Times Per Year

Words: 2,063

ISSN 2369-6885

Abstract

An interview with James Randi. He discusses: education, critical thinking, Donald Trump, and varieties of infinity; An Honest Liar and response to the film; gay rights, gay equality, gay marriage, marriage to Deyvi in 2013, coming out as gay on March 21, 2010, and the Harvey Milk film.

Keywords: Deyvi, gay marriage, Harvey Milk, James Randi.

An Interview with James Randi: Conjuror/Professional Stage Magician; Founder, James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) (Part Two)[1]

*Footnotes in & after the interview, & bibliography & citation style listing after the interview.*

*This interview has been mildly edited for clarity and readability.* 

4. Ideally, a proper education in the 21st century should include logic, statistics, science, and critical thinking. Do you think that insufficient general intelligence can be a barrier or a factor that’s important for proper critical thinking throughout the lifespan in addition to not having access to those four aforementioned core aspects of what I would consider a proper education in the 21stcentury: logic, statistics, critical thinking, and science?

I think it’s made pretty evident by a lot of people I run into that just don’t have logic working for them. I think this is a lack of formal education. There’s something to be said for that, but it’s not everything. Experience in life counts a great deal too, of course. I was very fortunate to have this ability to think this way, and to make use of what I gained by that.

I was very fortunate to have wonderful teachers, high school teachers. Oh, my goodness! Miss Quail tried to teach me German, which I didn’t quite learn. I can only do einzweidreivierfünf, a few things like that. My physics teacher was Mr. Tovell. I never learned his first name. In school, in Canada, we never knew the first names of any of the teachers. They were Mrs., Mr., or Miss. We weren’t given that privilege or encouraged to find out. Oh yes, my mathematics teacher, Mr. Henderson and physics teacher Mr. Tovell, were my idols. I followed them around a great deal.

No, I pestered them, that’s the right terminology. I really pestered them like a bug, I guess. I asked them questions. I was doing differential calculus in grade school, as a curiosity (dy/dx). Wow, I found out that by knowing a little bit, just like in chemistry – having a little sample of a curve or some such thing, I could find out secrets of the whole thing. Wow! Things like ellipses, I could take a little piece of that and I could find out about the whole thing, find out what it could do, and how. That was wonderful, wonderful. Trigonometry was just a magical thing, a magical thing. I was good at all of that. Not just because I was bright, I don’t suppose, but out of curiosity. I had this burning, curiosity. Then I read One, Two, Three, Infinity by George Gamow. You wouldn’t know these books, I don’t think. They’re rather esoteric.

(Laugh)

Gamow taught me about the different degrees of infinity. There are different kinds of infinity, you know? Infinity means as far as you can go. I’ll give you a little workout here. Suppose we have a two-dimensional universe, like a big sheet of paper, a plane surface. It goes on to infinity in all directions and we live on that sheet of paper. What’s the number of dots that you can draw on that sheet of paper?

Infinite.

You got it! Maybe you’re okay! Yes, but now I’m going to show you a higher degree of infinity. This may surprise you. Now, we say, just drawing dots, there’s, of course, an infinite number because it goes to infinity in all directions. What would be a larger degree of infinity, in this two-dimensional universe? A larger degree of infinity by far, and you can sense this even if it doesn’t appeal to you much, at first. Ready? It’s the number of straight lines you can draw on that plane. Now, that means on a flat plane going on for an infinite length and width, though not up or down.

There would be an infinity of dots, but there would of course be a larger number of straight lines that you can draw there, of different lengths, in different directions. So, that’s a second kind, or degree, of infinity… Now, this is the heavy one: What’s the third degree of infinity? If you want to call me back, and ever want to discuss, it, then I’ll tell you, and you’ll say, “Oh, of course, of course.” It’s a wonderful answer. That’s the kind of thing that always fascinated me. I always had wonderful answers. I could look at numbers as a kid in whatever book I would buy or look at, or even in my nightly newspaper, the Toronto Daily Star. I could tell by looking up at Saturn – if it was in the sky that particular season, and I would know if I looked in my telescope – and I had a big brass refracting telescope – which was so big that it was heavy as hell – and I’d stay up late at night and look up into the night sky at Saturn, Jupiter, or the Moon. I’d go to the newspaper and find out how many moons would be there, visible, not behind the planet or in front of it, and in what direction they would be stretched out. By golly, there they were, just as the paper predicted. Of course, I could have asked for the positions of the moons 20 years in the future. But then I’d have to wait quite some time, 20 years, you see.

That can be done. It’s a wonderful discovery.

(Laugh)

It was wonderful things that really taught me, fascinated me. Then I also had a good friend, Gary Haines, who was very much scientifically interested, and a couple of others as well. We used to get together and exchange notes. I had a wonderfully exciting childhood that way.

5. Now, in a recent documentary calledAn Honest Liar…

Oh, I remember that, yes.

(Laugh)

What was the response to the film in general?

Oh! Very, very good, excellent. As a matter of fact, Deyvi and I have attended, oh, I don’t know how many showings of it. All over this country. I’ve attended showings in Denmark, Germany and in Finland in particular. It’s wonderful, the popularity of it. It’s now dubbed in nine languages, the subtitles, that is. That is quite something. It’s being seen by a lot of people, and the reaction to it has been spectacular. What’s most interesting to me and to Deyvi is that when we attend a screening of it – and we’ve done it so many times we can’t count them – at the end there’s always a Q&A. We appear on stage and answer questions. We often get the same questions, that’s how that sort of thing goes. But then when the audience actually leaves the theatre after seeing the film and the Q&A, there’s always a group of three to five, maybe seven, people who stay at the foot of the stage. We know what that’s all about, and we’re quite accustomed to it now.

One or more will look up at us and say, “You made a big change in my life.” Now, you can’t buy that. That’s not something you can purchase or you can coax somebody into saying, and they often have tears coming down their faces, because they’re the ones we reached as a result of that film, in one way or another. It could be in many different ways because of the contents of that film. Again, you can’t buy that. I hardly have to say any more about it than that. It is quite an experience to have people say that, to have them take you by the hand and say, “You changed my life.” Wow! We are very, very grateful to the producers of the film, of course.

The film has been a success. And it’s ranking very, very high. It was – I forgot – a 96% or something approval rating on Netflix or on one of them.

6. In one scene of that film, there is a clip. It has to do with you and Deyvi discussing gay marriage, which relates to gay rights, gay equality, and gay marriage itself. You were married in 2013 to Deyvi.

Yeah.

What was that experience for you? As well, that relates to, I think March 21, 2010, you came out as gay. What was the experience of coming out as well as getting married to your partner Deyvi?

Okay, that’s two different aspects of it. First of all, I was moved by seeing the Harvey Milk film. I can’t think of the name of it, maybe just “Milk”?  Harvey Milk was a minor San Francisco politician who was killed by an anti-gay. He was just shot dead. Just look up Harvey Milk, M-I-L-K, and I’m sure you’ll find it. I even have some Harvey Milk commemorative stamps in the desk here.

That was, when I saw the film, when I realized that I’d never “come out”. I’d been gay all of those years, all of my friends knew, all of my business acquaintances, et cetera, et cetera. People close to me. But I’d never “come out.” I thought, “Wait a minute, wait a minute, why am I not “out?” I was 82 or something like that then. I’m 88 now. I was a youngster then…

(Laugh)

I announced one day on my webpage. “By the way, I’m gay.” I said a few words about it. The reaction I got! I didn’t know what to expect, of course, but the reaction was wonderful. People saying, “I didn’t know, but thank you for coming out and telling us that.” It was a good move. Marriage, gay marriage, eventually became legal in Washington, D.C., to start with, and I decided I wouldn’t waste any time.

(Laugh)

(Laugh)

It was very simple. We got the certificate. It’s in a safe place, I can assure you. It was something we should’ve done anyway; you know? That is, coming out as gay and then following that up with getting married. But that need eventually came along, not too long after the time of the Harvey Milk film.

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Conjuror/Professional Stage Magician; Founder, James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF).

Appendix II: Citation Style Listing

American Medical Association (AMA): Jacobsen S. An Interview with James Randi (Part Two) [Online].February 2017; 13(A). Available from: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-james-randi-part-two.

American Psychological Association (APA, 6th Edition, 2010): Jacobsen, S.D. (2017, February 8). An Interview with James Randi (Part Two)Retrieved from http://www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-james-randi-part-two.

Brazilian National Standards (ABNT): JACOBSEN, S. An Interview with James Randi (Part Two). In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 13.A, February. 2017. <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-james-randi-part-two>.

Chicago/Turabian, Author-Date (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott. 2017. “An Interview with James Randi (Part Two).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 13.A. http://www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-james-randi-part-two.

Chicago/Turabian, Humanities (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott “An Interview with James Randi (Part Two).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 13.A (February 2017). http://www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-james-randi-part-two.

Harvard: Jacobsen, S. 2017, ‘An Interview with James Randi (Part Two)In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 13.A. Available from: <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-james-randi-part-two>.

Harvard, Australian: Jacobsen, S. 2017, ‘An Interview with James Randi (Part Two)In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 13.A., http://www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-james-randi-part-two.

Modern Language Association (MLA, 7th Edition, 2009): Scott D. Jacobsen. “An Interview with James Randi (Part Two).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 13.A (2017):February. 2017. Web. <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-james-randi-part-two>.

Vancouver/ICMJE: Jacobsen S. An Interview with James Randi (Part Two) [Internet]. (2017, February; 13(A). Available from: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-james-randi-part-two.

License and Copyright

License

In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at www.in-sightjournal.com.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen, and In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 2012-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen, and In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  All interviewees co-copyright their interview material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

An Interview with James Randi (Part One)

Interviewer: Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Numbering: Issue 13.A, Idea: Outliers & Outsiders (Part Nine)

Place of Publication: Langley, British Columbia, Canada

Title: In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Web Domain: http://www.in-sightjournal.com

Individual Publication Date: February 1, 2017

Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2017

Name of Publisher: In-Sight Publishing

Frequency: Three Times Per Year

Words: 1,785

ISSN 2369-6885

Abstract

An interview with James Randi. He discusses: geographic, cultural, and linguistic family background; IQ score of 168 as a child; and very high general intelligence, being a loner, Sir Ernest Alfred Budge, and the Toronto Public library.

Keywords: Sir Ernest Alfred Budge, family, general intelligence, James Randi, Toronto Public library.

An Interview with James Randi: Conjuror/Professional Stage Magician; Founder, James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) (Part One)[1]

*Footnotes in & after the interview, & citation style listing after the interview.*

*This interview has been mildly edited for clarity and readability.

1. In terms of geography, culture, and language, where does your family background reside?

(Laugh)

Well, it is quite a mixture. First of all, I’m Canadian by birth, a naturalized American, presently, as of many, many years ago. My father was born in Montreal, Canada. My mother was a resident in Quebec province, but the grandparents were more interesting. One side of my grandparents came from Austria via Denmark. So, we got around, you know.

(Laugh)

(Laugh)

The other setup was all French. I have quite a mixed heritage. My chromosomes are probably a mess. I have no idea, but it seems to have worked alright.

(Laugh)

I didn’t grow up with two heads or anything like that. The human race is able to undertake an awful lot of conflicts of that kind. I am very satisfied with the results. Some other people are, too.

2. In youth, you were given an IQ test. You scored 168.

Yeah, for some reason or other. My father worked for the Bell Telephone company in Canada. He had some of them go through certain psychological tests on me. My father mentioned to them that he thought I was a bright child. He was right, very perceptive, of course. I was already into mathematics and all such kinds of things at a very early age, just a toddler. One of my uncles took me to the David Dunlap Observatory, which was outside Toronto, Canada, where they have this, I think, 74” reflecting telescope.

My goodness! Saturn was at the top of the sky, at zenith more or less. It was just incredible. I had my eye glued to the eyepiece. I couldn’t believe what I had shimmering in front of me. This big orange ball with a yellow-orange ring around it. When they told me that light had taken so many minutes to reach my eye, I didn’t seem to think it was very mysterious. I said, “Yes, why would I want to know that?” I was just a little kid. My uncle said, “Because light travels at 186,000 miles per second.” My poor little head started to work on that. I thought, “I’ll read about it. I’ll read about it.” You know? I was so fascinated. That was a huge, huge moment of my life. It made me aware of things that are so far away, so unknown by us.

Such wonderful things out there, that we could know so very much about. That’s what got me interested in science right away. I was a child prodigy, and a polymath. My father’s office loved me. A psychologist that came along, he gave me this Stanford-Binet IQ test, and I got 168 on that. Years later, I was called upon by Mensa. Do you know what Mensa is?

Yes, I just interviewed the National Executive Chair, Deb Stone.

It’s not really a table. That’s what the word “mensa” means. In this case, it’s a whole bunch of furniture.

(Laugh)

(Laugh)

I was called by them again later when I started to do my program on WOR-radio out of New York City. I used to do an all-night radio program there – a panel show – from midnight until 5:00 – or 5:30 – in the morning.

Mensa called me and said, “Come around and do the test.” Mensa is supposed to be smart. It is supposed to be really very smart, but what they had done is gotten copies of the UK – the United Kingdom – copy of the IQ test for Mensa, and it had questions in there about pounds, shillings, and pence. Now, the average American is not going to know about that at all. They’ll have no knowledge about it in their heads. But I happened to know the system. I toyed with the idea of transferring dollars, Canadian dollars, that is, into pounds. I answered all of the questions. I guess I got them right because they asked if I could come back a week later and do the test again. I thought, “Why?” When I got there, I was sitting in a room all by myself.

I said, “What’s the problem?” They said, “You did so well on the test.” I said, “Well, it occurred to me and I mentioned to the examiner that I knew the answers to some questions that others might not know.” They looked at the thing and said, “Oh my God, we’ve got the wrong set of questions.” So, I smartened up Mensa. That’s quite a claim to be able to make, you know. Not only that, I must tell you… just an aside… have you got time? I don’t want to bore you…

I hope this is an interesting story. I was in a classroom, where they ask people to do the Mensa test. Some kid was beside me looking at the soles of his feet. I thought, “What’s going on?” Then I came to the question that he was trying to solve. They had the picture of a sole of a shoe. It asked, “Is this the bottom of a shoe or the top of a shoe? And which foot is it?” You see, you’re supposed to give them the orientation thing.

(Laugh)

He was having a hard time. He was looking at his feet in these shoes trying it figure out. I didn’t have any problem, but some people do have a problem with that kind of orientation, spatial orientation. So, I just gave him a wink and said, “Left.”

(Laugh)

I hope he didn’t fail the test because I gave him the wrong answer. I’ll never see him ever again anyway, I suspect. Anyway, I took the Stanford-Binet IQ test, twice. Then there was this at the school. There were all kinds of conflab and whatnot. I shouldn’t be taking the test and it went ahead. I got over it. I recovered from other things much worse than this, I can assure you.

3. Before we get into the meat and potatoes of the interview, I want to cover more of the background. If you take into account that very high level of general intelligence, and if you take into account the early exposure to astronomy, or astrophysics, through the observatory, do you think that this is an unusual set of experiences and abilities in terms of having a background in skepticism, or preparing you to have that future?

Well, I was a loner as a kid. I had a brother and a sister, much younger than I. I was always a loner. I enjoyed the Toronto Public Library. You have no idea. I knew that place inside and out. I even had a pass to go behind the stacks. I don’t know whether you know the terminology or not, but “the stacks” is where they store the books before they go out to the main desk for somebody to refer to.

(Laugh)

I could actually go back into the stacks. I found books by Sir Ernest Alfred Budge that you don’t know, I’m sure, or well, maybe. I learned to write my name in the cartouches, the oval things the Egyptian pharaohs did. I felt rather sexed out on that. I thought, “Gee, I can write like a king.” You know?

I was enormously curious and I slept poorly if I couldn’t go to sleep with a problem – I wanted to go to sleep with it. I found, as I do even today, if I have a problem or some kind of puzzle, then I’ll go to sleep and wake up, usually six o’clock or so now, and boom! It’s right there. I come rushing into the office here, sit at the computer, look it up, or do what I have to do with it. I solved many problems just by sleeping on them. I don’t know whether most people do that. I assume there are a fair number of people who can do that, and do it just as well.

I had the high IQ. I think it was pretty right numerically. I think it was approximately right. 160 is called genius, I think, or “near genius”. You know, I don’t even know on the Stanford-Binet test what the top score is.

There are a few record holders.

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Conjuror/Professional Stage Magician; Founder, James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF).

Appendix II: Citation Style Listing

American Medical Association (AMA): Jacobsen S. An Interview with James Randi (Part One) [Online].February 2017; 13(A). Available from: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-james-randi-part-one.

American Psychological Association (APA, 6th Edition, 2010): Jacobsen, S.D. (2017, February 1). An Interview with James Randi (Part One)Retrieved from http://www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-james-randi-part-one.

Brazilian National Standards (ABNT): JACOBSEN, S. An Interview with James Randi (Part One). In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 13.A, February. 2017. <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-james-randi-part-one>.

Chicago/Turabian, Author-Date (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott. 2017. “An Interview with James Randi (Part One).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 13.A. http://www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-james-randi-part-one.

Chicago/Turabian, Humanities (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott “An Interview with James Randi (Part One).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 13.A (February 2017). http://www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-james-randi-part-one.

Harvard: Jacobsen, S. 2017, ‘An Interview with James Randi (Part One)In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 13.A. Available from: <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-james-randi-part-one>.

Harvard, Australian: Jacobsen, S. 2017, ‘An Interview with James Randi (Part One)In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 13.A., http://www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-james-randi-part-one.

Modern Language Association (MLA, 7th Edition, 2009): Scott D. Jacobsen. “An Interview with James Randi (Part One).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 13.A (2017):February. 2017. Web. <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-james-randi-part-one>.

Vancouver/ICMJE: Jacobsen S. An Interview with James Randi (Part One) [Internet]. (2017, February; 13(A). Available from: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-james-randi-part-one.

License and Copyright

License

In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at www.in-sightjournal.com.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen, and In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 2012-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen, and In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  All interviewees co-copyright their interview material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

An Interview with Lawrence Hill (Part Four)

Interviewer: Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Numbering: Issue 13.A, Idea: Outliers & Outsiders (Part Nine)

Place of Publication: Langley, British Columbia, Canada

Title: In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Web Domain: http://www.in-sightjournal.com

Individual Publication Date: January 22, 2017

Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2017

Name of Publisher: In-Sight Publishing

Frequency: Three Times Per Year

Words: 2,799

ISSN 2369-6885

lh-5628-cropped-mar-22-15-ls

Abstract

An interview with Lawrence Hill. He discusses: success in the novels in humanization of the de-humanized; thoughts on the development of ideas about blood through non-scientific ideas as it relates to sexism; refugees crises informing The Illegal; ways the arts community can humanize the downtrodden, the desperate, the fleeing, and the suffering; family reaction to this fun and silliness, and the relationship between fun and silliness, and good prose; main message or messages of The Book of Negroes, The Illegal, Blood: The Stuff of Life, and Dear Sir, I intend to Burn Your Book.

Keywords: author, Lawrence Hill, novelist, writer.

An Interview with Lawrence Hill: Professor, Creative Writing, University of Guelph, and Author, Novelist, and Writer (Part Four)[1],[2],[3],[4]

*Footnotes in & after the interview, & citation style listing after the interview.*

*This interview has been mildly edited for clarity and readability.*

39. Earlier in the interview, your work, focus, and emphasis in literary work and in personal volunteer work is a humanistic perspective. I was half-right. Not half-wrong, I missed one crucial element. There is a humanitarianism. For example, The Book of Negroes and The Illegal aim to humanize the de-humanized. That is, the contextualization of the humanity of a slave and a refugee, respectively. Did these novels succeed in the humanization of the de-humanized?

I do not know if they have succeeded. I am not the best judge of my own work. Critics and readers are in a better position to judge my work. But yes, I did attempt to humanize the de-humanized in the world. Two types of people profoundly de-humanized in their experiences are those enslaved or subject to war and genocide — people forced to take refuge, often without legal documentation, in countries that don’t want them.

One of the justifications used by people who perpetuate genocide or state-sponsored oppression is to claim that the victims have impure blood, or are inferior human beings. It is almost a precondition to carrying out genocide and massive mistreatment of people. They are not the same as us. They are not human like us. They are less than us. Therefore, we can treat them badly.

In general, people hiding in countries where they do not belong – where they do not have any status as legal residents — are despised by the authorities. It is a negative thing living without legal right in a country that does not want you. You are made to feel base and less than human. You are not welcome. If you are caught, you may be deported. So how do you make a living? How do you care for your children? Who can help you if you are threatened or hurt? I tried in The Illegal and The Book of Negroes to give humanity to people whose humanity has been ignored.

40. Earlier in the interview and in the response, you mentioned the purity or impurity of blood. My favourite part of Blood: The Stuff of Life comes from discussion about misconceptions of menstruation. Those conceptions were wrong from modern scientific standards. It was used to see women as inferior. As you document, these wrong theories continue to arise. You showed non-scientific ideas can have terrible consequences. What are your thoughts on the development of ideas about blood through non-scientific ideas as it relates to sexism?

I do not know if we can blame sexism on Aristotle, but he did fulminate about the supposed inferiority of women’s blood and speculate about the reasons women’s menstrual blood makes them inferior to men

As far as I know, the Spanish Inquisition in Medieval Spain represents the first time that a state attempts to link the ideas of blood purity and race and uses this vile connection to perpetuate genocide, torture and deportation.

During the Spanish Inquisition, thousands of Jews and Muslims were burned at the stake, dispossessed or deported because their blood was deemed impure in relation to the reigning Catholic monarchs. Since that time, over and over again we have drawn upon absolute evil notions of blood to ‘whip up’ hatred and justify mistreatment of those that we wish to subjugate.

41. If you look at the early 20th century, we have The Holocaust. Similarly, if we look at the early 21st century, we have a singular tragedy in the Syrian refugee crisis. 12,000,000 Syrians are refugees, or more. By comparison with the total Canadian population, that is about 1/3 of Canada, at least. That rhetoric of those mentioned and unstated can be damaging to people in a similar manner as with blood or on being a ‘real [fill in the blank]’ (American, Canadian, and so on). These are individual human beings going through extraordinary circumstances.

You worked for the Ontario Welcome House at Toronto Pearson International Airport welcoming refugees at age 16.  My sense is deep empathy for refugees from you. Also, something unstated about them. This experience never leaves them. That is, it is important to get compassion right the first time. Related to The Book of Negroes, Aminata’s life is marked forever by the experience of being stolen and enslaved. Her entire travels, life story, and narrative of being taken against her will out of Bayo is ever after marked by this. This was important for The Illegal with Keita Ali as well. How did this and the current Syrian refugee crisis inform the foundation for this novel as the events in Syria progressed?

The refugee crisis in Syria did not inform the writing of The Illegal. Like many Canadians and most people around the world, I was not aware of the buildup of refugees in Syria when I wrote the novel. The novel was finished well before we talked openly in the West, about that particular refugee crisis. However, there were many other refugee crises in the world and they did inform The Illegal.

42. We have images of the Vietnamese woman fleeing napalm bombs, Aylan Kurdi, and so on. The phenomenon of genocide neglect is real. Individual images and stories move hearts more than statistics and news reports. How might the arts community humanize the downtrodden, the desperate, the fleeing, and the suffering?

There is a role for every type of person in talking about the downtrodden and the suffering, and in this case the plight of refugees. There is a role for great humanitarians in the field attempting to alleviate immediate suffering in refugee camps. There are advocates working for organizations. They speak up. They tell us the results of studies. There are activists and university professors.

There are lawyers. There are politicians learning a great deal about the plight of refugees. There are endless numbers of organizations from the United Nations onward. They produce reports for the public to read about it. There are people and organizations with things to share. There are journalists. They do a great job bringing the information about the world to us.

There is narrative too. Artists can more intensely, efficiently, and with more ardor, passion, and success than a typical historian, journalist or university professor excite and trigger the imagination. The artist is capable of taking somebody by the collar and saying, “Look at this person. Behold this humanity!”

The role of the artist is to connect with the humanity of the individuals perceiving the art. It is to excite and stir and provoke people.

It is the work that I do in life. It is my contribution. I do not want to overstate it. I do not want to understate the role of the artist. The artist is not unlike the rabbi, the imam, or the priest. A person who evokes the story of humanity to evoke or elicit faith. We all need story to understand ourselves. We need narrative to understand the world and our place in it.

Some of us look to religion. Others look to art for the same thing: guidance. For words that tell us how to be, remind us of the deeper truer values, that set us on the right path. Religion plays a similar role in satisfying a fundamental need to be told a story, how to be, and how to be good in the world.

43. In the Hill household, you are known as the broom dancer, especially to some good R&B music. You mentioned the playful tone of A.A. Milne’s Disobedience. What R&B music? What is the family reaction to this fun and silliness? What is the relationship between fun and silliness, and good prose?

All great R&B music whether Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin, and everything in between. There were several forms of music that dominated my childhood: jazz, blues (thanks to my mother and father), and R&B music. R&B music was ascendant as I entered into the teenage years, which was natural for anyone in my generation. I’m 59. It was a musical household.  I played poorly.

My brother went on to become a professional musician. My parents weren’t musicians. However, they played music in the house and sang all the time. R&B, jazz, and blues were staples of our musical expression in the living room and the kitchen in the household. It affected all of the children. My brother, sister, and I were affected profoundly. It emerges in our work too.

Playfulness and silliness is vital. You could not love well without being relaxed and able to be playful. You cannot learn language well if you’re too uptight and unwilling to make mistakes. One key to learning new languages is willingness to make mistakes and make a fool of yourself. Of course, if you’re a child or an infant, you do not need to worry about those things. You haven’t learned those worries.

You have to relax to love well. You have to relax to learn language. In my experience, you have to relax to produce good art. You have to be able to be fun, silly, playful, and to rejoice in life in all of its forms.

If you do not relax, you will not get the most out of your mind. As a writer, you should be rejoicing in human play and the play of language.

I tend to be too serious most of the time. So, people like to see me fool around, dance with brooms, and play with and entertain children – who are now grown. They still like to see it.  My father was an incredibly serious man in his role as a human rights activist and historian.[5] He would wind down by watching Westerns, boxing, or track-and-field on television, maybe football.

He would holler at the TV. He needed to relax to be able to go back the next day to work that was often soul crushing. Most people who have healthy balance in life would appreciate and need to be silly and playful. It takes a certain amount of trust to know that the people around you will not judge or despise you because you are letting your guard down in being playful and silly.

Without that, there’s no hope for humanity.

(Laugh)

44. If we take The Book of Negroes, The Illegal, Blood: The Stuff of Life, and Dear Sir, I intend to Burn Your Book, you more well-known works at least. What is the main message or set of messages that you wish to get across?

I always have trouble answering that type of question. I do not think about the message with a capital “M” when I write a work of fiction. Let’s set aside non-fiction for a minute, that is a little different. Readers do not like to be preached at or to be told what to think or feel. One stance to take as a writer is to assume that your reader is smarter than you. The reader does not need to be lectured on how to read or interpret things.

People come to their own conclusions. Present the story that you are able to present. Most discriminating readers react negatively to being held by the hand and told how to read, and having everything explained to them. It is dangerous to come to the job with a message to hammer into the heads of your, in my case, readers.

I do not begin writing a novel with the idea of disseminating a set of messages. Most writers of fiction hope that their messages will be a happy byproduct of drama. In my fiction, I meditate on the resilience of the human spirit and the miracle of being caring and loving even after suffering abuses of the worst kinds. Millions of people continue to display that resilience today. It is not Aminata Diallo or Keita Ali alone.

Many, many of them are showing the same resilience Aminata showed in The Book of Negroes. One message is to pause and appreciate the resilience of the human spirit. I do not try to jam that into the prose or attempt to willfully insert a message. I try to write a story. I hope that somehow between the lines the reader will divine the other things.

Thank you for your time, Larry.

I thank you for your time. I have to say that I don’t think I’ve ever been interviewed by somebody who had such a profound grasp of such a wide variety of things that I’ve shared, written, or spoken about whether they are personal, professional, or things to do with my books or my family life. I’ve been quite astounded by the reach of your work and I can only imagine that you’ve invested a huge amount of time in getting your head around a person’s life and expressions, in this case mine. Thank you for that.

Bibliography

  1. A. Milne. (2016). InEncyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/biography/A-A-Milne.
  2. [Kelly Mark]. (2013, October 21). Hold On – Dan Hill. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wFxfiWk3rT4&list=RDwFxfiWk3rT4#t=1.
  3. Hill, L. (2013). Blood: The Stuff of Life. Toronto, ON: House of Anansi Press.
  4. Hill, L. (2013). Dear Sir, I Intend to Burn Your Book: An Anatomy of a Book Burning. Edmonton, AB: The University of Alberta Press.
  5. Hill, L. (2007). The Book of Negroes. Toronto, ON: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.
  6. Hill, L. (2015). The Illegal. Toronto, ON: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.
  7. Hill, K. (2016). Café Babanussa: A Novel. Toronto, ON: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.
  8. Milne, A.A. (n.d.). Disobedience. Retrieved from https://allpoetry.com/Disobedience.
  9. Ontario Ministry of Government and Consumer Services. (2016). The Freedom Seeker: The Life and Times of Daniel G. Hill. Retrieved from http://www.archives.gov.on.ca/en/explore/online/dan_hill/index.aspx.
  10. The Canadian Encyclopedia. (2016). The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved from http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca.

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Professor, Creative Writing, University of Guelph; Author; Novelist; and Writer.

[2] Individual Publication Date: January 22, 2017 at www.in-sightjournal.com; Full Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2017 at https://in-sightjournal.com/insight-issues/.

[3] B.A., Economics, Laval University; M.A., Creative Writing, John Hopkins University.

[4] Photograph courtesy of Lawrence Hill and photograph credit to Lisa Sakulensky.

[5] Ontario Ministry of Government and Consumer Services. (2016). The Freedom Seeker: The Life and Times of Daniel G. Hill. Retrieved from http://www.archives.gov.on.ca/en/explore/online/dan_hill/index.aspx.

Appendix II: Citation Style Listing

American Medical Association (AMA): Jacobsen S. An Interview with Lawrence Hill (Part Four) [Online].January 2017; 13(A). Available from: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-lawrence-hill-part-four.

American Psychological Association (APA, 6th Edition, 2010): Jacobsen, S.D. (2017, January 22). An Interview with Lawrence Hill (Part Four)Retrieved from http://www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-lawrence-hill-part-four.

Brazilian National Standards (ABNT): JACOBSEN, S. An Interview with Lawrence Hill (Part Four). In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 13.A, January. 2017. <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-lawrence-hill-part-four>.

Chicago/Turabian, Author-Date (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott. 2017. “An Interview with Lawrence Hill (Part Four).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 13.A. http://www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-lawrence-hill-part-four.

Chicago/Turabian, Humanities (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott “An Interview with Lawrence Hill (Part Four).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 13.A (January 2017). http://www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-lawrence-hill-part-four.

Harvard: Jacobsen, S. 2017, ‘An Interview with Lawrence Hill (Part Four)In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 13.A. Available from: <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-lawrence-hill-part-four>.

Harvard, Australian: Jacobsen, S. 2017, ‘An Interview with Lawrence Hill (Part Four)In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 13.A., http://www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-lawrence-hill-part-four.

Modern Language Association (MLA, 7th Edition, 2009): Scott D. Jacobsen. “An Interview with Lawrence Hill (Part Four).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 13.A (2017):January. 2017. Web. <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-lawrence-hill-part-four>.

Vancouver/ICMJE: Jacobsen S. An Interview with Lawrence Hill (Part Four) [Internet]. (2017, January; 13(A). Available from: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-lawrence-hill-part-four.

License and Copyright

License

In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at www.in-sightjournal.com.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen, and In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 2012-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen, and In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  All interviewees co-copyright their interview material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

An Interview with Lawrence Hill (Part Three)

Interviewer: Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Numbering: Issue 13.A, Idea: Outliers & Outsiders (Part Nine)

Place of Publication: Langley, British Columbia, Canada

Title: In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Web Domain: http://www.in-sightjournal.com

Individual Publication Date: January 15, 2017

Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2017

Name of Publisher: In-Sight Publishing

Frequency: Three Times Per Year

Words: 2,860

ISSN 2369-6885

lh-5628-cropped-mar-22-15-ls

Abstract

An interview with Lawrence Hill. He discusses: most appealing ethical philosophy; humanistic tendencies; most appealing economic and political philosophy; reflection on Roy Groenberg and Dear Sir, I Intend to Burn Your Book: An Anatomy of a Book Burning (2013); emotion evoked from book burning; risks and benefits associated with the advent of the Internet and digitization of books; importance of freedom of speech, expression, and the press; The Book of Negroes (2007), transforming non-readers into readers, and the feeling that comes from this; means to volunteer for prisons; contents of the nightmares conveyed in The Book of Negroes; reason for the name Aminata Diallo; and The Illegal (2015) and The Book of Negroes common threads.

Keywords: Aminata Diallo, author, blood, Lawrence Hill, novelist, prisons, Roy Groenberg, writer.

An Interview with Lawrence Hill: Professor, Creative Writing, University of Guelph, and Author, Novelist, and Writer (Part Three)[1],[2],[3],[4]

*Footnotes in & after the interview, & citation style listing after the interview.*

*This interview has been mildly edited for clarity and readability.*

27. What ethical philosophy most appeals to you?

I don’t have an answer in my back pocket.

(Laugh)

(Laugh)

Clearly, we can draw a great inspiration from the great religious traditions. Not harming people, and showing respect and love is a great start.

28. That sounds humanistic to me. Does that seem accurate to you?

Is that opposed to religion?

There’s humanism in and of itself.

Yes, that is accurate. It is possible to borrow, embrace, and accept the great traditions from religious texts without accepting the religious beliefs on which they are predicated. If I have to go to an ethical philosophy, not doing harm and trying to do good, and not showing hate and showing love toward all people in the world would be a good starting point.

I am going to confess. I don’t know the real meaning of humanism. You might attribute specific meaning to the term. I attribute the meaning in a general way. If humanism means that to you, that is wonderful. However, you might have a more complex and nuanced definition.

29. That’s a good coda statement on it. What economic and political philosophy most appeals to you?[5]

I do not believe in unfettered capitalism. I do not believe in the Adam Smith idea. That is, the pursuit of one’s own individual profit above all as necessary to ensure that people thrive in society. Clearly, in pure capitalism, we would see some people abandoned and starving.

For people to thrive, in a loving definition of the word “thrive,” I flirted with ideas of socialism and communism at an early age. I find much to admire in it, but I am not a socialist or a communist. I believe in the hybrid of socialism and capitalism.

I believe that people should be free to pursue their individual economic interests, but that they should support a strong, democratically-elected government that tends to those who are disenfranchised or not thriving, and that focuses on the development and protection of public goods and services such as roads, schools, hospitals, health care, our environment, our water supply, foreign aid and international relations.

I also want to live in a society that embraces and encourages volunteer activity, non-profit groups and organizations serving a wide range of community needs.

30. You write at home. You might write at a friend’s cottage. You leave a couple to a few times a year to enter into isolation to write, intensely. You wrote an essay entitled Dear Sir, I Intend to Burn Your Book: An Anatomy of a Book Burning (2013) based on a letter from a Surinamese Dutchman named Roy Groenberg.[6] You wrote back in an “outrageously Canadian” way – with tact and politeness. Based on that tone, in hindsight, what would have been the appropriate response to Mr. Groenberg at the time?

I do not feel my response was inappropriate. There would not have been a point in being aggressive. I do not know if I would have done anything differently, if it happened today. I offered an explanation about the origins of the title of my novel The Book of Negroes in my first email to Mr. Groenberg. He was not interested in explanations, in reading the book, or in talking about it.

He was interested in escalating the conflict. It is hard to talk to somebody who seeks to escalate conflict. There does not seem to be a point. The other possibility would have been to ignore him, and not to confront the issue in an essay for The Toronto Star.

I don’t know if I wrote things perfectly. I don’t walk around with a great sense of pride about it, but I do feel that I reacted to the issue in accordance with my own values. I would not have reacted any differently today.

31. On page 31 to 32, you closed:

The very purpose of literature is to enlighten, disturb, awaken and provoke. Literature should get us talking – even when we disagree. Literature should bring us into the same room – not over matches, but over coffee and conversation it should inspire recognition of our mutual humanity. Together. I can’t see any good coming out of burning or banning books. Let’s talk, instead.[7]

What emotion does book burning evoke you?

Fear and horror, a sense that we are witnessing a precursor to physical violence. It makes me think of people whose anger has run amok and are interested in wreaking vengeance and hurting. It makes me think of the Holocaust during which huge numbers of books by Jewish writers were burned.

It makes me think of a person or a group of people who have decided that there is no point in civil dialogue. It makes me think about people who want to intimidate, silence and hurt others.  I am troubled by book burning – even a book that I despise. Every person should be entitled to write a book, or to despise a book, but when we discover differences of opinion, they should be addressed through conversation and debate – not by means of book burning or violence.

32. With the advent of the Internet or the World Wide Web, and the distribution of books via digitization, are there greater risks or lesser risks with respect to that form of prevention of certain ideas getting out in books (or electronic books “e-books”) – whether someone hates them or loves them?

I am not sure. If you write a blog, you can disseminate your ideas infinitely faster than if you are writing a book. You have the potential to reach millions of people immediately. On the other hand, if you live in a country that oppresses freedom of speech, the state can use the same type of electronic technology to find you, punish you and stifle public discussion.

33. All texts, and therefore authors, are susceptible to this drastic and emotive form of censorship. What makes freedom of speech, expression, and press important to you?

As a writer in a democracy, and as a consumer of literature and media of all forms, I’m not alone in treasuring freedom of speech and expression, freedom of the press, and freedom to read. These freedoms are fundamental to democratic societies.

However, there are limits to such freedoms, especially when individual freedom collides with public interest. For example, I believe in anti-hate legislation. I don’t believe that you should be allowed to stand on a street corner and incite violence, or publish a document that advocates genocide, or publish child pornography.

So I believe in freedom of speech but recognize that in a few limited instances, the public good will outweigh individual freedom.

34. Your most well-known work, The Book of Negroes (2007)[8], took five years to write. Many consider The Book of Negroes a masterpiece and its author a genius. As discussed earlier, that is a long time to write a text, work within your own imagination, and not know if there is an interest in the general Canadian culture and the international literary world. You have a woman, a hairdresser, named Rebecca Hill – no relation. She cuts the hair for the family. She graduated from high school and never read a book. You gave her The Book of Negroes. She has become an avid reader ever since. You contributed to a non-reader becoming a reader in personal life. The novel has sold hundreds of thousands of copies, which means, statistically, this transformation of non-readers into readers seems reasonable to expect for numerous others as well. How does this feel to you?

To witness a person – and sometimes an adult – discover the joy of reading brings me great pleasure and satisfaction. Becky Hill is a friend of my wife, children and me. I gave her The Book of Negroes. She read it, loved it, and then let me know that it was the first book she had ever read. Since that day, she has become an inveterate reader and when I stop by to get my hair cut, she always tells me what she has been reading. When I come across a book that is “rooftop good” – good enough to shout about from a rooftop – I like to give it to her. Books have given us the means to share a friendship.

Years ago, I had a wonderful experience working in a prison for young offenders in Oakville, Ontario, for one school term. I was asked to work with a small group of incarcerated teenage boys. My job was to try to get them reading. They were reluctant to read, even though they knew how to read. By the end of the term, they avidly read.

It felt like a glorious achievement. To work with young people who are down on their luck and living behind bars, and to turn them into avid readers, felt like one of the greatest achievements in my life.

35. With respect to the prison population and literacy, how might someone volunteer for prisons in the area?

Often, one of the best things to do is to align with an active, reputable organization. I have been one of many volunteers for a non-profit, charitable group called Book Clubs for Inmates. It distributes books without charge to inmates in federal penitentiaries and organizes book club discussions in those same institutions.

So a person who is interested in promoting reading and literacy among prisoners might choose to volunteer for a group such as Book Clubs for Inmates.

I have recently become a professor of creative writing at the University of Guelph in Ontario, and one form of community service that I have been contemplating would be to be a mentor or teacher of creative writing to prison inmates. That is something I plan to explore.

36. The Book of Negroes discusses the narrative of Aminata Diallo. A young African stolen from Bayo, Mali and sailed to America and enslaved. She was the same age as your eldest child at the time. You had nightmares in constructing this narrative. It was painful. In fact, you worked to write past this part, quickly. What were the contents of those nightmares?

People being murdered, orphaned, thrown overboard into the sea, watching their families or villages being burned down. All of the things that happened in the book.

37. You’ve volunteered with Crossroads International in Cameroon, Mali, Niger, and Swaziland. To name your protagonist, you used the common Malian name Aminata based on meeting a midwife in Mali. The name means “trustworthy” and Diallo means “bold.” Selecting the name for a character is vital, why this name?

It is vital. It is a beautiful name. It is a common name. It is as common as Mary and Joanne in Canada. I could have chosen another name. It struck me as an immensely beautiful name. It is a mouthful, Aminata, but not too much of a mouthful. In North America, it seems foreign, but accessible. I love the sound of it. All of the vowels. It evokes the name of a midwife who was dignified, splendid, and courageous in her work. With my daughter, it helped me imagine a young woman who was in a way my own daughter.

38. Your recent novel, The Illegal (2015), focuses on a man that runs in a literal and metaphorical way.[9] For instance, he was in a place, Zantoroland, where there were great runners. He hoped to join the Olympics. That was shoved to the side in a moment. He was running for life. In one part of The Book of Negroes, I noticed Aminata described African peoples are “travelling people” and moves out of necessity, akin to Keita Ali, throughout the novel from Bayo to Carolina to New York to Nova Scotia to Mali to London. I note a thread through these two texts with movement, history, ownership, literacy, bonds, and survival. Each seem like threads in The Book of Negroes and The Illegal. What were some other threads brought into the novel that reflect personal concerns about the downtrodden for you?

I am interested in movement, voluntary and involuntary. We can agree Aminata’s abduction in Africa, being sent to North America, and enslaved until freeing herself is a form of involuntary migration. She did not choose to leave a village in Africa. She did not choose to move to America and leave Africa. That was involuntary. Keita’s movement in The Illegal might be considered voluntary. He chooses to leave the country. Although, it is a country where he is not welcome. His movement is voluntary on the one hand, but he does not have many options. If he does not leave his country, he will be killed.

In an earlier novel of mine called Any Known Blood (1997), I followed a family of five generations of men who move back-and-forth between Maryland and Ontario.[10] Each generation leaves one jurisdiction and goes into the other over five generations. Those were, for the most part, voluntary as well, but we have people escaping slavery.

For instance, we have the underground railroad. You might see that as voluntary, but attempting to save their lives and freedom at the same time. I am interested in migration, dislocation, and alienation. I have an interest in how identity alters in one’s eyes and in the eyes of those around you, especially as you move across the world or a piece of land. These seem to be continually arising issues: dislocation and marginality.

Many writers have themes to which they return in their books. For example, the Canadian novelist Jane Urquhart writes about people in the Irish diaspora and explores the lives of visual artists, over and over again in her books. My work is preoccupied by dislocation, migration, and alienation.

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Professor, Creative Writing, University of Guelph; Author; Novelist; and Writer.

[2] Individual Publication Date: January 15, 2017 at www.in-sightjournal.com; Full Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2017 at https://in-sightjournal.com/insight-issues/.

[3] B.A., Economics, Laval University; M.A., Creative Writing, John Hopkins University.

[4] Photograph courtesy of Lawrence Hill and photograph credit to Lisa Sakulensky.

[5] Mr. Hill earned a B.A. in Economics from Laval University.

[6] Hill, L. (2013). Dear Sir, I Intend to Burn Your Book: An Anatomy of a Book Burning. Edmonton, AB: The University of Alberta Press.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Hill, L. (2007). The Book of Negroes. Toronto, ON: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.

[9] Hill, L. (2015). The Illegal. Toronto, ON: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.

[10] Hill, L. (1997). Any Known Blood. Toronto, ON: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.

 

Appendix II: Citation Style Listing

American Medical Association (AMA): Jacobsen S. An Interview with Lawrence Hill (Part Three) [Online].January 2017; 13(A). Available from: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-lawrence-hill-part-three.

American Psychological Association (APA, 6th Edition, 2010): Jacobsen, S.D. (2017, January 15). An Interview with Lawrence Hill (Part Three)Retrieved from http://www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-lawrence-hill-part-three.

Brazilian National Standards (ABNT): JACOBSEN, S. An Interview with Lawrence Hill (Part Three). In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 13.A, January. 2017. <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-lawrence-hill-part-three>.

Chicago/Turabian, Author-Date (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott. 2017. “An Interview with Lawrence Hill (Part Three).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 13.A. http://www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-lawrence-hill-part-three.

Chicago/Turabian, Humanities (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott “An Interview with Lawrence Hill (Part Three).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 13.A (January 2017). http://www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-lawrence-hill-part-three.

Harvard: Jacobsen, S. 2017, ‘An Interview with Lawrence Hill (Part Three)In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 13.A. Available from: <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-lawrence-hill-part-three>.

Harvard, Australian: Jacobsen, S. 2017, ‘An Interview with Lawrence Hill (Part Three)In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 13.A., http://www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-lawrence-hill-part-three.

Modern Language Association (MLA, 7th Edition, 2009): Scott D. Jacobsen. “An Interview with Lawrence Hill (Part Three).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 13.A (2017):January. 2017. Web. <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-lawrence-hill-part-three>.

Vancouver/ICMJE: Jacobsen S. An Interview with Lawrence Hill (Part Three) [Internet]. (2017, January; 13(A). Available from: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-lawrence-hill-part-three.

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© Scott Douglas Jacobsen, and In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 2012-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen, and In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  All interviewees co-copyright their interview material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

An Interview with Lawrence Hill (Part Two)

Interviewer: Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Numbering: Issue 13.A, Idea: Outliers & Outsiders (Part Nine)

Place of Publication: Langley, British Columbia, Canada

Title: In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Web Domain: http://www.in-sightjournal.com

Individual Publication Date: January 8, 2017

Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2017

Name of Publisher: In-Sight Publishing

Frequency: Three Times Per Year

Words: 2,767

ISSN 2369-6885

lh-5628-cropped-mar-22-15-ls

Abstract

An interview with Lawrence Hill. He discusses: the motivation for compassionate truth; religious or secular worldview influencing it; long time to write novels and this as either part of habit or personality; view on books in terms of their personal importance; strengths and weaknesses of the writing style; reason for writing more non-fiction than fiction; importance of nearly dying; importance of Malcolm X as an influence on him; influence of Martin Luther King on him; meaning of blood to him; and the dangers of associating blood with race or religion.

Keywords: author, blood, Lawrence Hill, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, novelist, race, religion, writer.

An Interview with Lawrence Hill: Professor, Creative Writing, University of Guelph, and Author, Novelist, and Writer (Part Two)[1],[2],[3],[4]

*Footnotes in & after the interview, & citation style listing after the interview.*

*This interview has been mildly edited for clarity and readability.*

16. One thing that comes from the written word by you. For me, the genuine compassion and open-heartedness in pursuit of real narratives and concern for people. You write on slaves. You write on immigrants. You write on freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and freedom of the press. Uncomfortable truths are still truths. The truth matters. To me, this seems humanistic. Universal truths relevant to everyone. What motivates this passion for compassionate truth?

It’s giving back. Most writers examine issues of injustice, imbalance, or societal wrongs, whether they are tiny wrongs or tiny instances of public awareness. No matter how heinous, tiny wrongs done in the household up to genocides perpetuated on the whole mass of people.

Writers tend to explore inhumanity. Hopefully, to put a stop to it or protest against it, I’m not alone in this. Writing is a profoundly moral act. You’re asserting your morality every time that you pick up a pen and take it to the page. For me, writing is engaging with the world.

Writing is a way of expressing our own humanity, failings, a way of struggling to make sense of life and inhumanity, and to push ourselves to a better place. But when I am at work writing, I don’t think on such a grand scale. Typically, it is pedestrian and manageable. I am burning to tell a story.

17. Any religious or secular framework, perspective, or worldview supporting it?

No. Certainly, not a religious framework, I was raised by two atheists. Those two atheists in turn were raised by two religious people. On my father’s side, my grandfather and great grandfather were both ministers in the African Episcopal Church in the United States.

My father went from being a church minister to being an atheist. I have great interest in religion and people’s perception of religion throughout history. Religion sometimes informs my stories, but I’m not a religious person myself.

18. You take three to five years to write a novel. You let the ideas, the contexts, and the personalities percolate for some time. Does this seem like an aspect of habit or personality?

I let them percolate in a passive way. I’m writing, writing, and writing, and not feeling happy with drafts. I keep writing again, and then rewriting. I take a long time.

(Laugh)

Unfortunately, it takes me that long, 3 to 5 years, to write a novel. I need to feel satisfied with it.

I wish I could write faster, but I don’t seem to be able to do so. It takes time for characters to form, show themselves to me, and to get my head around the story. It is like giving birth on the page to a whole life or a set of lives. It’s hard for me to get my head around all of that and to bring it to the page.

Generally, I write non-fiction more quickly. I take 6-12 months to write a work of non-fiction.

19. You used the phrase “giving birth.” That seems to mirror some common themes among many writers. In a way, their book is like a child to them. How do you view your books in terms of their personal importance, especially based on the effort and time put into them?

I’m using the expressions of my own soul. Each form is different. In general, I try not to rank them in terms of value. It is better for other people to decide which book is better or worse. I don’t want to be in competition with myself.

That is, I don’t want to love any work more than another. I want to love them all in their own way. Each book is part of my mind, heart, and soul at the time of writing. However, once you’re done the production, the healthiest thing is to set them aside and move on.

I might read a translation or adapt a work for a mini-series. And I will tour and give readings and talks. But aside from working obligations, I don’t return to a book once I have finished writing it.

20. As you’re writing, it is not a passive percolation. Once done, the books are put to the side. At the same time, as you’ve noted, it takes time to get them out, but you’d rather get them out faster. What seems like the strengths and weaknesses of this writing style?

(Laugh)

The weakness is I’m a slow writer. Some writers might produce 40 or 50 books in their lifetime. That won’t be the case with me. I’ll be lucky to write 5 more. So, I don’t have a body of work as extensive as some.

Ultimately, that’s okay. I work on my own terms. In the final analysis, if I write 10 or 15 books, it doesn’t matter. I am pursuing art in the best way for me. That matters to me.

The upside, it is important to be honest and faithful to yourself. When I write and produce, I work on something that reflects my own heart. It is an authentic reflection of longing, loving, and living. I’ve managed to get in tune with myself. I’ve found a way to express myself that feels authentic and rich.

21. You’ve written more works of non-fiction than fiction. Why?

Yes, I have written more non-fiction than fiction. I can write non-fiction faster. That’s the most practical reason. Two of the works of non-fiction were very slight, minor books. They were early career productions. Nobody knows about them. They are not available or no longer in print. They are in Canadian history.

I am proud of them. Even so, they are slight, minor books. If you put those books away, the slate is mixed. It leaves four more substantial books of non-fiction and four of fiction. In general, the works of non-fiction are more focused. They are thinner. They hone in on more specific targets.

22. You worked in Niger. You suffered from gastroenteritis. It kills millions of people around the world every year. It is a prominent killer throughout the African Diaspora. You were given blood transfusions. You nearly died. You have pointed out the important aspect of this to you. What was the importance of this event to you – and the blood transfusion?

It was a turning point, emotionally. It was important because I almost died. Apart from getting over the moment of danger, it provided the chance to reflect on my own racial identity.

Something that had been worrying me until the time of when I got sick at the age of 22. With the illness, I dropped the worry in a nanosecond. I no longer felt anxious about my own racial identity or who I was, or what people saw in me.

I felt no need to worry about it anymore. I came to accept, much more calmly, being both black and white. I had family ancestry spanning two continents. I didn’t have to worry other people’s perceptions of me. It didn’t matter. I knew myself.

It was a significant moment triggered by the illness in Niger in 1979. It took me to a place of emotional calm and confidence with regard to my own identity.

23. At the age of 15, Malcolm X was an important influence for you. What was the importance to you? How did that develop over time?

The Autobiography of Malcolm X written by Alex Haley. It was one of the first books for adults that I read. If you read a book that transports you and shapes you in your youth, then you’ll probably never forget it.

Books have a real mark on a young person, if that young person adores the book. You don’t forget it. Malcolm X, as he’s moving through prison, stepping out of prison, embracing Islam, hating white people, and declaring white people were devils incarnate.

He argued white people were devils. He believed that. He mounts a very racist, hateful argument during his early militancy. However, before the assassination, he becomes more compassionate. He envisions a more diverse picture of Islam. He comes to accept through his travels around the world that people of different racial backgrounds can be Muslims.

He was hard to read in print. That is, some ideas were nonsensical and oppressive to me. For example, such as his saying white people were devils incarnate. At the same time, he went to a better place with the diverse image of Islam. I was moved and shaken by Malcolm X’s writings as a teenager. He stayed with me all of these decades.

24. Martin Luther King was concomitant with him in terms of the period and the importance. Did he have any influence on you as well?

Yes, I was born in 1957. It was easy to be influenced by Martin Luther King. Even though, I was a boy at the time of the assassination. I’m from a generation that was most affected by Martin Luther King. His message of love and peace, and a color blind world. It allowed people to search and develop regardless of their race, creed, and color.

Also, he was a pacifist. He gave his life to advance the cause of civil rights. He was a hero of the generation. He was essential to my notion of courage, dignity, love, and transcendence of human evil.

25. Cornel West describes that as a love that starts on the chocolate side of the city and spills over to the vanilla side. In any case, the ideas of the purity or impurity of blood can lead to atrocities: The Holocaust and the Spanish Inquisition. The Spanish Inquisition is the expelling and murder of Jews and Muslims from Spain based on the idea of their impurity. What is blood to you?

The perpetrators of the Spanish Inquisition expelled and murdered Jews and Muslims in great numbers. They burned them to death. They tortured them. They committed all manner of atrocities in addition to expelling tens of thousands or more.

“Blood” is many things to me. Blood is the physical fluid that pumps through our body. It keeps us alive. It can be given and replenished inside the body, which is rare. There aren’t many things that we can donate from our bodies.

People can’t donate a liver, a kidney, a toe, a finger, or an eyeball and have it grow back. In addition to being this ‘magical fluid’ that replenishes itself, blood represents life. It represents mortality.

It represents good. It represents religion. It represents nationhood. It represents gender. Blood evokes individual and collective identity. Blood can unite us. We can be generous and immediate in helping others with our blood.

When we see that our brothers or sisters are in danger, have been terrorized at the Boston Marathon or during 9/11, we can rush to the hospital and donate blood. We do this without public recognition or personal reward.

Blood can bring out the best in us. Also, it can bring out the worst in us such as nasty preoccupations, which can lead into the hell of genocide.

One of the easiest ways over time employed to demonize people and to justify murder is to suggest their blood is unequal to our blood. That their blood is impure. It is a very common, human feeling. We come back to this repeatedly to justify evil and murder.

We dehumanize victims. Blood has an important role as a metaphor. Sometimes for good. Sometimes for evil. It depends on personal conduct. It is more than the fruit of the body. It is a way of seeing ourselves. It is a way of loving. Also, it can be a way of hating.

26. We have the Rwandan genocide, Cambodian genocide, The Holocaust, and the Spanish Inquisition. Each relates to the ideas about the impurity of others’ blood. It justifies murder and subjugation in the mind of the murderer and subjugator. What other dangers exist with blood being associated with race or religion?

That’s a complicated question. I wrote about this in Blood: The Stuff of Life (2013).[5] In a nutshell, we have these ideas about blood, which are unscientific and unrelated to reality. Even as recent as the Second World War, the American government made it illegal for blood from black donors to be given to white recipients.

Even though, at the time, it was completely understood that compatibility between donor and recipient has nothing to do with race. Do the blood types match? That’s the question. If it’s a black donor and white recipient, or white donor and black recipient, it doesn’t matter.

Politics trump science. It becomes law because there’s fear of black people in white America. Bad science and bad social policies touch on this fear of blacks in white America. If you have wretchedly bad science forming wretchedly bad social policy and political interventions, even if it’s not a matter of genocide, it can lead to foul policy.

Also, it can lead to divisive ways of thinking about people. Over and over again, let’s say people in North America, have come to imagine, erroneously, that race can be equated to blood. That one’s blood parts can be counted up in racial bits. That you might be half black, quarter Japanese, and quarter Korean.

It doesn’t make any sense. However, we talk about racial mixtures. The language about racial mixing comes down to blood quantification. We’ve come to imagine that identity and racial identity can be defined by blood parts, which leads to vicious ways of thinking about people.

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Professor, Creative Writing, University of Guelph; Author; Novelist; and Writer.

[2] Individual Publication Date: January 8, 2017 at www.in-sightjournal.com; Full Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2017 at https://in-sightjournal.com/insight-issues/.

[3] B.A., Economics, Laval University; M.A., Creative Writing, John Hopkins University.

[4] Photograph courtesy of Lawrence Hill and photograph credit to Lisa Sakulensky.

[5] Hill, L. (2013). Blood: The Stuff of Life. Toronto, ON: House of Anansi Press.

Appendix II: Citation Style Listing

American Medical Association (AMA): Jacobsen S. An Interview with Lawrence Hill (Part Two) [Online].January 2017; 13(A). Available from: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-lawrence-hill-part-two.

American Psychological Association (APA, 6th Edition, 2010): Jacobsen, S.D. (2017, January 8). An Interview with Lawrence Hill (Part Two)Retrieved from http://www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-lawrence-hill-part-two.

Brazilian National Standards (ABNT): JACOBSEN, S. An Interview with Lawrence Hill (Part Two). In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 13.A, January. 2017. <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-lawrence-hill-part-two>.

Chicago/Turabian, Author-Date (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott. 2017. “An Interview with Lawrence Hill (Part Two).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 13.A. http://www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-lawrence-hill-part-two.

Chicago/Turabian, Humanities (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott “An Interview with Lawrence Hill (Part Two).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 13.A (January 2017). http://www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-lawrence-hill-part-two.

Harvard: Jacobsen, S. 2017, ‘An Interview with Lawrence Hill (Part Two)In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 13.A. Available from: <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-lawrence-hill-part-two>.

Harvard, Australian: Jacobsen, S. 2017, ‘An Interview with Lawrence Hill (Part Two)In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 13.A., http://www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-lawrence-hill-part-two.

Modern Language Association (MLA, 7th Edition, 2009): Scott D. Jacobsen. “An Interview with Lawrence Hill (Part Two).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 13.A (2017):January. 2017. Web. <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-lawrence-hill-part-two>.

Vancouver/ICMJE: Jacobsen S. An Interview with Lawrence Hill (Part Two) [Internet]. (2017, January; 13(A). Available from: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-lawrence-hill-part-two.

License and Copyright

License

In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at www.in-sightjournal.com.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen, and In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 2012-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen, and In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  All interviewees co-copyright their interview material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

An Interview with Lawrence Hill (Part One)

Interviewer: Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Numbering: Issue 13.A, Idea: Outliers & Outsiders (Part Nine)

Place of Publication: Langley, British Columbia, Canada

Title: In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Web Domain: http://www.in-sightjournal.com

Individual Publication Date: January 1, 2017

Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2017

Name of Publisher: In-Sight Publishing

Frequency: Three Times Per Year

Words: 2,243

ISSN 2369-6885

lh-5628-cropped-mar-22-15-ls

Abstract

An interview with Lawrence Hill. He discusses: geographic, cultural, and linguistic family background; familial influence on development; parents’ love story; influence on parents’ relationship on him; influences and pivotal moments in major cross-sections of life; being read to each night by his mother; journalistic experience influencing writing to date; self-editing for writers; number of drafts; singer-songwriter brother, Dan Hill, influence on professional work; recommended songs for listening pleasure by Dan; affect of Karen Hill’s mental illness and death on him; advice for coping with the emotional pain; Café Babanussa (2016) and an essay inside called On Being Crazy; and Karen’s written work and impact on him.

Keywords: author, Canadian, Dan Hill, Karen Hill, Lawrence Hill, novelist, writer.

An Interview with Lawrence Hill: Professor, Creative Writing, University of Guelph, and Author, Novelist, and Writer (Part One)[1],[2],[3],[4]

*Footnotes in & after the interview, & citation style listing after the interview.*

*This interview has been mildly edited for clarity and readability.*

1. To begin at the beginning, you were born in 1957 in Newmarket, Ontario, Canada. Now, you’re one of Canada’s greatest novelists.[5] Let’s explore your story. In terms of geography, culture, and language, where does your familial background reside?

It is complicated, like most people. My early ancestors came from Europe and Africa. On both sides, they have been in the United States for many generations. My parents met in 1952 and married interracially the next year.  My family culture spans Africa, Europe, Canada, and the United States. In terms of my family cultural background, Canadian, American, and black and white cultures.

Language-wise, I was raised in an Anglophone family who spoke only English, but my sister and I became enthusiastic language learners. Learning other languages and living in them has become central in my life.

2. How did this familial history influence development from youth into adolescence?

It is difficult for a person to look inside of their own life and say, “This is how my family history influenced my development from childhood to adolescence.” However, a vivid interest in identity, in belonging, in the ambiguity of culture and race, in moving back and forth between different racial groups: all of these things marked my childhood and adolescence.

3. You mentioned your parents married in 1953. What was the origin and nature of your parents’ relationship with each other? Their love story.

They met in ‘52 in Washington, D.C. and fell in love, quickly. My father had just completed an MA in sociology at the University of Toronto. He went back to live in Washington and to teach at a college in Baltimore for a year. My parents met and married that year. The day after they married, they moved to Canada. They became ardent Canadians and never looked back. They never moved back to live in the United States, although they visited often and took my brother, sister and me with them.

4. How did this relationship influence you?

For one thing, they loved each other. They were opinionated and argumentative, not about domestic things, but about political and social issues. There was always debate around the kitchen table. I was steeped in that culture. A lot of talk, especially around meal time.

5. When looking at formal development, in standard major cross-sections in life, what about influences and pivotal moments in kindergarten, elementary school, junior high school, high school, undergraduate studies (college/university)?

I had a fabulous Grade 1 teacher named Mrs. Rowe. She told us stories every day. I longed to get to school to be sure I didn’t miss any of her stories. My father was a great storyteller. My mother read every day to us. We came – brother, sister, and I – to love the readings.

My parents instilled a love of language and story. I had other great teachers. In high school, they encouraged me to write. I wanted to do it. I told them. They encouraged me, but they didn’t make me.

I was an avid runner and had a track coach. In addition to being my coach, he was a reporter for the Toronto Star. He was the first professional writer that I met. He encouraged me to write better and to expand the range of my reading. These were early formative developers. Adult figures looking on and leading me toward the excitement of writing.

6. I’m thinking about your mother reading these stories each day to you. Was there a common author for each night?

She read one a lot. I memorized it. It is by A.A. Milne.[6] One of her favourite poems that we memorized quite young called Disobedience.[7] It says:

…James James Said to his Mother,
“Mother,” he said, said he;
“You must never go down
to the end of the town,
if you don’t go down with me…
[8]

On it goes, it is this crazy story about a woman who loses it. It is quite a story.

(Laugh)

(Laugh)

It is quite a dark story, actually. Also, it is playful, language-wise. Of course, we ate up Dr. Seuss. The crazier and more playful the language, the better.

7. Following that influence from the first professional writer that you met, you were a journalist for The Winnipeg Free Press and The Globe and Mail. How did the time as a journalist at these publications inform the work writing to date?

It helped me learn, quickly. I learned to edit myself. I was able to call people ‘out of the blue’ and say, “Hey, there’s something I need to understand. You’re apparently an expert in the field. Can you explain it to me?” It made me feel confident approaching strangers and asking them to help me get my head around things that I needed to know as a novelist.

I also learned that words aren’t sacrosanct. That is, my world wouldn’t come to an end if people altered words of mine. I realized everyone can be edited. First and foremost, we can edit ourselves. I learned to write more rapidly and to allow the natural rhythms of thought to percolate unfettered onto the page, and then to come back and edit myself. Those lessons come from journalism.

8. Would you consider self-editing one of the most important skills for writers?

Certainly, it is for me. Unless you’re born Mozart, your first drafts will be sloppy. Mine certainly are, so I have to rewrite my work and work it into shape. Editing is fundamental to progressing through the drafts of a novel.

9. How many drafts?

In a novel, I easily work through ten drafts.

10. Now, back to the family, your brother, Dan Hill, is a singer-songwriter.[9] Has this relationship influenced professional work at all?

First, it influenced me as a person, which influenced professional work in every imaginable way. He is (and was) totally passionate with art. He lived for it. It was exciting to see my brother as an artist doing his thing.

I could see the personal fulfillment for him. It normalized the possibility of achievement in the arts. The idea of going for it, pursuing the dream, and believing in its achievability. His most important influence: being there, seeing him, and showing the possibility for me too.

11. Any recommended songs by him for listening pleasure? Songs that you enjoy by your brother.

I love the song Hold On.[10] It came out in the 70s.

12. Your late sister, Karen, suffered from bipolar disorder. She went to a restaurant, choked, lost consciousness, and died in the hospital 5 days later. How did this life battle with mental illness and then the death affect you?

It affected me in all the imaginable ways. It took my sister from me. I lost one of the people that I most love in the world. It was a visceral, immediate, loss. Many will face it. It is hard to lose a loved one unexpectedly far before their time. It affected me by taking someone from me that I love very deeply.

13. For those that might read this in the future with family members suffering from mental illness, any advice for coping with the emotional pain that might coincide with it?

My advice: don’t be alone. It is tremendous work emotionally, intellectually, and financially to help somebody who suffers from mental illness. It is alienating if you have to do that alone. If you have a community of people to come and work together in supporting the ill person, it can help.

If you are alone, it can be brutally alienating, lonely, and crushing. However, if you have institutions, nurses, social workers, psychiatrists, friends, family members and neighbours involved with the ill person, everyone can help in their respective ways. It can become less overwhelming. That’s one of the most important things: to build a network. If you are helping an ill person, you will need help too.

14. She wrote a book entitled Café Babanussa (2016) and an essay inside called On Being Crazy.[11]You have read these.

Yes, I read them.

15. Did her written work impact you?

I have been reading Karen’s fiction and non-fiction for decades. It has been a lifelong process. Karen worked on Café Babanussa for 20 years. I’ve been reading it, tuning into her life, commenting on it, encouraging her, and being a brotherly figure by reading her stuff for a long time now. The book was intertwined with her own life. Discussing it became an extension of our sibling relationship.

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Professor, Creative Writing, University of Guelph; Author; Novelist; and Writer.

[2] Individual Publication Date: January 1, 2017 at www.in-sightjournal.com; Full Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2017 at https://in-sightjournal.com/insight-issues/.

[3] B.A., Economics, Laval University; M.A., Creative Writing, John Hopkins University.

[4] Photograph courtesy of Lawrence Hill and photograph credit to Lisa Sakulensky.

[5] The Canadian Encyclopedia. (2016). Lawrence Hill. Retrieved from http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/lawrence-hill/.

[6] A.A. Milne. (2016). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/biography/A-A-Milne.

[7] Disobedience (n.d.) states:

James James
Morrison Morrison
Weatherby George Dupree
Took great
Care of his Mother,
Though he was only three.
James James Said to his Mother,
“Mother,” he said, said he;
“You must never go down
to the end of the town,
if you don’t go down with me.”

James James
Morrison’s Mother
Put on a golden gown.
James James Morrison’s Mother
Drove to the end of the town.
James James Morrison’s Mother
Said to herself, said she:
“I can get right down
to the end of the town
and be back in time for tea.”

King John
Put up a notice,
“LOST or STOLEN or STRAYED!
JAMES JAMES MORRISON’S MOTHER
SEEMS TO HAVE BEEN MISLAID.
LAST SEEN
WANDERING VAGUELY:
QUITE OF HER OWN ACCORD,
SHE TRIED TO GET DOWN
TO THE END OF THE TOWN –
FORTY SHILLINGS REWARD!”

James James
Morrison Morrison
(Commonly known as Jim)
Told his
Other relations
Not to go blaming him.
James James
Said to his Mother,
“Mother,” he said, said he:
“You must never go down to the end of the town
without consulting me.”

James James
Morrison’s mother
Hasn’t been heard of since.
King John said he was sorry,
So did the Queen and Prince.
King John
(Somebody told me)
Said to a man he knew:
If people go down to the end of the town, well,
what can anyone do?”

(Now then, very softly)
J.J.
M.M.
W.G.Du P.
Took great
C/O his M*****
Though he was only 3.
J.J. said to his M*****
“M*****,” he said, said he:
“You-must-never-go-down-to-the-end-of-the-town-
if-you-don’t-go-down-with-ME!”

Milne, A.A. (n.d.). Disobedience. Retrieved from https://allpoetry.com/Disobedience.

[8] Ibid.

[9] The Canadian Encyclopedia. (2016). Dan Hill. Retrieved from http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/dan-hill/.

[10] [Kelly Mark]. (2013, October 21). Hold On – Dan Hill. Retrieved from  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wFxfiWk3rT4&list=RDwFxfiWk3rT4#t=1.

[11] K., Hill. (2016). Café Babanussa: A Novel. Toronto, ON: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.

Appendix II: Citation Style Listing

American Medical Association (AMA): Jacobsen S. An Interview with Lawrence Hill (Part One) [Online].January 2017; 13(A). Available from: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-lawrence-hill-part-one.

American Psychological Association (APA, 6th Edition, 2010): Jacobsen, S.D. (2017, January 1). An Interview with Lawrence Hill (Part One)Retrieved from http://www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-lawrence-hill-part-one.

Brazilian National Standards (ABNT): JACOBSEN, S. An Interview with Lawrence Hill (Part One). In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 13.A, January. 2017. <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-lawrence-hill-part-one>.

Chicago/Turabian, Author-Date (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott. 2017. “An Interview with Lawrence Hill (Part One).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 13.A. http://www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-lawrence-hill-part-one.

Chicago/Turabian, Humanities (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott “An Interview with Lawrence Hill (Part One).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 13.A (January 2017). http://www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-lawrence-hill-part-one.

Harvard: Jacobsen, S. 2017, ‘An Interview with Lawrence Hill (Part One)In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 13.A. Available from: <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-lawrence-hill-part-one>.

Harvard, Australian: Jacobsen, S. 2017, ‘An Interview with Lawrence Hill (Part One)In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 13.A., http://www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-lawrence-hill-part-one.

Modern Language Association (MLA, 7th Edition, 2009): Scott D. Jacobsen. “An Interview with Lawrence Hill (Part One).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 13.A (2017):January. 2017. Web. <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-lawrence-hill-part-one>.

Vancouver/ICMJE: Jacobsen S. An Interview with Lawrence Hill [Internet]. (2017, January; 13(A). Available from: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-lawrence-hill-part-one.

License and Copyright

License

In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at www.in-sightjournal.com.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen, and In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 2012-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen, and In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  All interviewees co-copyright their interview material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

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