Photo Credit: El-Wise Norisett

Mars Hill

October 6, 1998 (Tuesday) at 8:00 p.m.
Assembly Hall, Campus Center
University at Albany, Uptown Campus

4:00 p.m. Afternoon Seminar, Humanities 354

Seventy-five year-old Albany resident Mars Hill is the author of the well-received first novel, The Moaner's Bench. He is a retired architectural engineer who began writing The Moaner's Bench in 1987 at the NYS Summer Writers Institute, a program of the New York State Writers Institute cosponsored with Skidmore College. He received a New York State Foundation for the Arts Award for Fiction in 1989, and completed a Ph.D. in Humanistic Studies at the University at Albany in 1997. Hill is also a playwright and a leading member of the Black Experience Ensemble, a theater group based in the Capital District. A HarperCollins editor discovered The Moaner's Bench (October 1998) in a pile of unsolicited manuscripts and hopped a train to Albany to sign a contract shortly thereafter.

hillm2.jpg - 20.3 KThe novel is a humorous and largely an autobiographical account of an African-American boy coming of age in the Depression-era South. Sun Hughes is the youngest child in a middle-class Baptist family. Protected by his parents' affluence, his life is sheltered and full of wonder--but when the Depression hits, the family's fortunes wane, and Sun's innocence is lost as well.

Sent to live with his Uncle Pet, a proud and zealous Baptist who decides to make sure his nephew "gets religion," Sun grows up--and grows wise--as the world his Mama and Papa kept at a distance slowly comes into focus, in stark black and white. Sunny is torn between the all-encompassing moral influence of the church (the center of community life) and young, easy love.

A moaner's bench, literally, is a bench on which sinners must kneel in the Baptist church while waiting for the spirit to strike them into repentance. To repent--and to understand what one is repenting for--ones must first acknowledge that a sin has been committed and given a place and time, and then wrestle with the truth of the evidence. This experience for searching for the truth is the first step toward healing. The Moaner's Bench is ultimately a story of healing--healing within oneself, healing between oneself and another, and healing within a nation.

Hill, a grandfather, lives with his wife, Alvania, in the Pine Hills neighborhood of Albany.

"Water, skies and novels should be clear. Roadways and poems should be without obstacles. Hearts and minds should be adventuresome. Love should be forgiving. We find all the right things in Mars Hill's The Moaner's Bench." - Nikki Giovanni, poet

"What an appropriate metaphor--the moaner's bench--for growing up under the rigors of religion in the South. You don't have to be either Baptist or Southern to enjoy this book. You just have to be, or have been, young at some point. Mars Hill has the South down pat." - Janice Daugharty, author of Whistle
The window shades to the outside world began to rise. I would soon be eight. I searched the heavens on starlit nights for the Dippers. . .I searched for the North Star and found it. Papa knew exactly where it was. If I had had to think about it at all, I'm sure I would have thought it would remain that way. I knew no other way, but at home with Mama and Papa. I had heard Uncle Pet say that he had taken his money out of the banks. I hadn't lived long enough to recognize the real meaning of those warnings.

Albany Times Union Article
Writers Online Article