Life story

Olivia Hill finally claims her life story as entirely her own

Local playwright Olivia Hill has shifted gears for her latest venture. His new memoirs Travel North Black Girl came out at the end of May. The story oscillates between her childhood in Kansas City and her move to a small town in Alaska as a newly married young woman.

“I know the reason I chose to put everything in this book is that I think we need to hear the stories of everyday people. I never thought that more than I think now,” she says.

The transition from playwriting to telling her own life was harder than she thought.

“It was not an easy task. It’s a bit like having a baby. You don’t know what you’re getting until you’ve done it,” Hill says.

She’s incorporated her experiences into various characters over the years, but this is the first time Hill has told her story as her own.

“It’s a lot easier to create a character with similarities and pull those things out of yourself, especially if it’s traumatic or difficult. It gives you the distance to protect yourself and be able to share those things,” Hill says. .

Her story is full of difficult memories, including various types of abuse.

“The human experience can be painful, can be traumatic. It can be a lot of things, but we can overcome these things. But we have to share. Share with your kids, share with your grandkids if you’re not writing a book. Good or bad, tell the whole story, and we’ll see each other more alike than different,” Hill says.

Hill’s story begins with the trip north from Kansas City to Alaska in the early 1980s and follows the hardships of not knowing the culture and living in poverty. She sees the experience as healing.

“Leaving Kansas City and a lot of the issues I grew up with in Troost Hall – isolation, race and micro race issues, lack of funding and education, poor upbringing, having people living every day in generations of trauma,” Hill said. “I was caught in this environment.”

For her, breaking the cycle meant traveling thousands of miles north.

“Going to Alaska, I had no preconceived idea that it would be like anything. … I was very naive. I was 22. I had never been far from home. Growing up in this Troost hallway, I haven’t really left my neighborhood,” Hill said.

After moving to the Alaskan bush, she realized she had traded one type of isolation for another.

“I was in a small village where there was one phone for everyone in that village. There were no grocery stores. … That kind of isolation was a blessing in many ways for me in beginning. … It demystified to me that not all people are exactly the same. You have to meet them where they are in their culture,” Hill says.

She found that the skills her grandparents had taught her, like cooking, picking wild berries, canning, were suddenly vital.

“In this country, it can be very cold. I’ve been through 65 temperatures below, and that teaches you to take care of yourself. This land, this place, all it has to offer, the abundance of food and beauty, it teaches you that you are responsible for taking care of yourself, because if you don’t you can freeze to death . If you don’t, you can be injured and you can die. You have to be careful,” Hill says. “Being downtown can teach you some of the same things, but in a different way.”

In the story, her name is LaVern, the name she had at the time, but she later changed it to Olivia to honor her grandfather Oliver.

Although the book is only about her first year living in Alaska, Hill remained there for many years, graduating from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. This is where she found her path to acting and storytelling.

Mid-Continent Public Library publisher Woodneath Press released the book, a significant move for Hill. She had been involved in Woodneath Library programming for storytellers and writers and had attended some of their publishing workshops.

“It made a huge difference in the way I looked at publishing, even though I had published some short stories. … One of the things I liked was their approach, the concept of a library wanting to publish good literature for local people,” says Hill.

She loved working with the staff and appreciated their willingness to share the stories of ordinary people.


The book is available at BLK+BRWN, Green Door Bookstore, Wise Blood Booksellers and on Amazon.


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