J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Sunday, June 30, 2013

Another American Revolution Miniseries in the Works

This month Deadline reported on another upcoming television miniseries set during the American Revolution:
Production on The Book Of Negroes…will begin in the fall on the project written [by] Clement Virgo and [Lawrence] Hill. It will air stateside on BET and on CBC in Canada.

The story centers on Aminata Diallo, who is taken by slave traders from West Africa to South Carolina. It follows her through the American Revolution in New York, the isolated refuge of Nova Scotia and the jungles of Sierra Leone, before she ultimately secures her freedom in England in the early 1800s.
The Book of Negroes miniseries is based on Lawrence Hill’s novel of the same name, first published in Canada in 2007. It won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize the next year. If you’ve never heard of it, that might be because it was published in the U.S. of A. and elsewhere under the title Someone Knows My Name.

Hill’s original title referred to the list of free blacks evacuated with the British military from New York at the end of the war. That list is an important element in the book, and a valuable historical source for such studies as Cassandra Pybus’s Epic Journeys of Freedom.

In 2008 Hill wrote in the Guardian about why his American publisher had, probably after feedback from major retailers, asked to change the book’s title:
In my country, few people have complained to me about the title, and nobody continues to do so after I explain its historical origins. I think it’s partly because the word “Negro” resonates differently in Canada. If you use it in Toronto or Montreal, you are probably just indicating publicly that you are out of touch with how people speak these days. But if you use it in Brooklyn or Boston, you are asking to have your nose broken.

When I began touring with the novel in some of the major US cities, literary African-Americans kept approaching me and telling me it was a good thing indeed that the title had changed, because they would never have touched the book with its Canadian title.
I suspect that when the miniseries airs in the U.S., it will be called Someone Knows My Name.

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