Bernardine Evaristo

Bernardine Anne Mobolaji Evaristo, MBE, FRSL, FRSA, FEA (born 1959), is a British author of eight works of fiction. Her most recent novel, Girl, Woman, Other,[1] won the Booker Prize in 2019, the first black woman and the first black British person to win it. In 2020 she won the British Book Awards: Fiction Book of the Year and Author of the Year, as well as the Indie Book Award for Fiction. The novel was one of Barack Obama's 19 Favourite Books of 2019.[2] In June 2020 she became the first woman of colour and the first black British writer to assume the No.1 spot in the UK paperback fiction charts, where it held the top spot for five weeks. Evaristo's writing also includes short fiction, drama, poetry, essays, literary criticism, and projects for stage and radio. Two of her books, The Emperor's Babe (2001) and Hello Mum (2010), have been adapted into BBC Radio 4 dramas. She is currently Professor of Creative Writing at Brunel University London[3][4] and the vice-chair of the Royal Society of Literature.[5][6]

Bernardine Evaristo

Bernardine Evaristo Photo.jpg
Bernardine Evaristo
Bernardine Anne Mobolaji Evaristo

1959 (age 60–61)
London, England, UK
EducationEltham Hill Grammar School for Girls; Rose Bruford College of Speech and Drama; Goldsmiths College, University of London
OccupationNovelist, critic, poet, playwright, academic
Notable work
Lara (1997)
The Emperor's Babe (2001)
Girl, Woman, Other (2019)
AwardsBooker Prize, 2019
Indie Book Award for Fiction 2020
British Book Awards: Fiction and Author of the Year 2020

Evaristo is a longstanding advocate for the inclusion of writers and artists of colour. She founded the Brunel University African Poetry Prize[7] in 2012 and The Complete Works poets development scheme (2007–2017).[8] She co-founded Spread the Word writer development agency[9] (1995–present) and, in the 1980s, Britain's first black women's theatre company, Theatre of Black Women.[10] She also organised Britain's first major black theatre conference, Future Histories, for the Black Theatre Forum,[11] in 1995 in the Royal Festival Hall, and Britain's first major conference on black British writing, Tracing Paper, in 1997, at the Museum of London.


Evaristo was born in Eltham, south-east London, and christened Bernardine Anne Mobolaji Evaristo.[12] She was raised in Woolwich. She is the fourth of eight children born to her white English mother, who was a schoolteacher, and her Nigerian father, who migrated to Britain in 1949 and became a welder and local Labour councillor.[13] Her paternal grandfather was a Yoruba Aguda who returned from Brazil to Nigeria, and her paternal grandmother was from Abeokuta in Nigeria.[14][15][16] Her mother's paternal great-grandfather arrived in London from Germany in the 1860s and settled in Woolwich, south-east London, and her mother's maternal grandmother arrived in London from Ireland in the 1880s and settled in Islington.[17] Evaristo was educated at Greenwich Young People's Theatre (now the Tramshed, in Woolwich), Eltham Hill Grammar School for Girls, the Rose Bruford College of Speech and Drama and Goldsmiths College, University of London, from where she received her doctorate in creative writing in 2013.[18] In 2019 she was appointed Woolwich Laureate by the Greenwich and Docklands International Festival, reconnecting to and writing about the home town she left when she was 18.[19]

Writer and editorEdit

Evaristo is the author of eight books of fiction and verse fiction that explore aspects of the African diaspora.[3] She notably experiments with form and narrative perspective,[3] often merging the past with the present, fiction with poetry, the factual with the speculative, and reality with alternate realities (as in her 2008 novel Blonde Roots).[20] Her verse novel The Emperor's Babe (Penguin, 2001) is about a black teenage girl whose parents are from Nubia, who comes of age in Roman London nearly two thousand years ago.[21] It won an Arts Council Writers Award 2000; a NESTA Fellowship Award in 2003; it was chosen by The Times as one of the "100 Best Books of the Decade" in 2010;[22] and it was adapted into a BBC Radio 4 play in 2013.[23] Next Evaristo published Soul Tourists (Penguin, 2005), about a mismatched couple driving across Europe to the Middle East, which featured ghosts of real figures of colour from European history.[24][25]

Her novel Blonde Roots (Penguin, 2008) is a satire that inverts the history of the transatlantic slave trade and replaces it with a universe where Africans enslave Europeans.[26] Blonde Roots won the Orange Youth Panel Award and Big Red Read Award,[17] and was nominated for the International Dublin Literary Award and the Orange Prize and the Arthur C. Clarke Award.[27]

Evaristo's other books include the verse novel Lara (Bloodaxe Books, 2009, with an earlier version published in 1997), which fictionalised the multiple cultural strands of her family history going back over 150 years as well as her mixed-race London childhood.[28] This won the EMMA Best Novel Award in 1998.[17] Her novella Hello Mum (Penguin, 2010) was chosen as "The Big Read" for the County of Suffolk, and adapted into a BBC Radio 4 play in 2012.[29]

As an editor, she guest-edited The Sunday Times STYLE magazine (UK) in July 2020 with a groundbreaking black woman/xn take over, featuring an array of young artists, activists and change-makers.[30] She guest-edited the September 2014 issue of Mslexia magazine,[31] the Poetry Society of Great Britain's centenary winter issue of Poetry Review (2012), titled "Offending Frequencies"; a special issue of Wasafiri magazine called Black Britain: Beyond Definition (Routledge, 2010), with poet Karen McCarthy-Woolf; Ten,[32] an anthology of Black and Asian poets, with poet Daljit Nagra (Bloodaxe Books, 2010) and in 2007, she co-edited the New Writing Anthology NW15 (Granta/British Council). She was also editor of FrontSeat intercultural magazine in the 1990s,[27] and one of the editors of Black Women Talk Poetry anthology (published in 1987 by the Black Womantalk Poetry collective of which Evaristo was part),[33] Britain's first such substantial anthology, featuring among its 20 poets Jackie Kay, Dorothea Smartt and Adjoa Andoh.[34]

Her 2014 novel was Mr Loverman (Penguin UK, 2013/ Akashic Books USA, 2014), about a septuagenarian Caribbean Londoner who is a closet homosexual and considering his options after a 50-year marriage to his wife.[35][36] It won the Publishing Triangle Ferro-Grumley Award for LGBT Fiction (USA) and the Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize.[37] In 2015 she wrote and presented a two-part BBC Radio 4 documentary, Fiery Inspiration – on Amiri Baraka and his influence on her generation of writers.[38] On Baraka's death in 2014 she had said: "I first came across him as a young writer and was shocked by the outspokenness of his writing. My poetry education at school had been overwhelmingly white, British, subtle, pastoral and internalised. Baraka and other writers of the ground-breaking 1960s Black Arts Movement like Jayne Cortez and Sonia Sanchez, and their literary descendants, were the opposite. Through them I discovered the importance and urgency of uncompromising political poetry that drew on black perspectives and experiences and used black vernacular and jazz syncopations. I never wrote like them, but they validated black life in literature when I had few other role models."[39]

Evaristo is a contributor to many anthologies and books including New Daughters of Africa: An international anthology of writing by women of African descent (2019), edited by Margaret Busby.[40]

Evaristo's most recent novel, Girl, Woman, Other (May 2019, Hamish Hamilton/Penguin UK), is an innovative polyvocal "fusion fiction"[41] about 12 primarily black British womxn. Their ages span 19 to 93 and they are a mix of cultural backgrounds, sexualities, classes and geographies, and the novel charts their hopes, struggles and intersecting lives. In July 2019 the novel was longlisted for the Booker Prize[42] and shortlisted for the 2019 Gordon Burn Prize.[43] The novel was on the Booker Prize shortlist announced on 3 September 2019, alongside books by Margaret Atwood, Lucy Ellmann, Chigozie Obioma, Salman Rushdie and Elif Shafak,[44] and on 14 October won the prize jointly with Atwood's The Testaments.[45] The win made her the first black woman and first black British author to win the prize.[45] Girl, Woman, Other was shortlisted for the 2020 Women's Prize for Fiction.[46] The novel was chosen by former US President Barack Obama as one of his 19 favourite books of 2019.[47]

Teaching and touringEdit

Evaristo has taught creative writing since 1994. She has also been awarded many writing fellowships and residencies including the Montgomery Fellowship at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, in 2015; for the British Council at Georgetown University, Washington DC; Barnard College/ Columbia University, New York; University of the Western Cape, South Africa; the Virginia Arts Festival (Virginia, USA), and Writing Fellow at the University of East Anglia, UK. She taught the University of East Anglia-Guardian "How to Tell a Story" course for four seasons in London up to 2015.[48][49]

Since 1997, she has accepted more than 150 international invitations as a writer. These involve writer-residencies and visiting fellowships, British Council tours, book tours, teaching creative writing courses and workshops as well as keynotes, talks and panels at many conferences and literary festivals.[13] She chaired the 32nd and 33rd British Council Berlin Literature Seminar in 2017 and 2018. She has also toured the UK and regularly hosts and chairs events.[40]

Critic and advocateEdit

Evaristo has written many articles, essays, fictions and book reviews for UK publications including: The Times, Vanity Fair, The Guardian,[50] The Observer, The Independent, Vogue, Harper's Bazaar UK, The Times Literary Supplement, Conde Naste Traveller, Wasafiri, and the New Statesman.[51] Aside from founding the Brunel International African Poetry Prize,[13] in 2012 she was chair of judges for both the Caine Prize for African Writing[52] and the Commonwealth Short Story Prize.[53]

She has also judged many other literary prizes including the Poetry Society's National Poetry Competition, Costa Book Awards, the Goldsmiths Prize, the T. S. Eliot Prize, Orange Award for New Writers and Next Generation Poets. She is on the board of the African Poetry Book Fund[54] in the US, and judges all their prizes. She is a patron of the SI Leeds Literary Prize.[55] In 2019 she judged the Glenna Luschei Prize for African Poetry and the Polari Book Prize.[56]

In 2006, Evaristo initiated an Arts Council-funded report delivered by Spread the Word writer development agency into why black[57] and Asian poets were not getting published in the UK, which revealed that less than 1% of all published poetry is by non-whites.[58]

When the report was published, she then initiated The Complete Works poetry mentoring scheme, with Nathalie Teitler and Spread the Word.[8] Thirty poets were mentored, each over a one- or two-year period, and many are publishing books, winning many awards and receiving huge acclaim for their poetry.[59]

Evaristo has also served on many key councils and advisory committees for various organisations including the Council of the Royal Society of Literature since 2017, the Arts Council of England, the London Arts Board, the British Council Literature Advisory Panel, the Society of Authors, the Poetry Society (Chair) and Wasafiri international literature magazine.[60][13]

In the 1980s, together with Paulette Randall and Patricia Hilaire, she founded Theatre of Black Women,[10] the first theatre company in Britain of its kind. In the 1990s she organised Britain's first black British writing conference, held at the Museum of London, and also Britain's first black British theatre conference, held at the Royal Festival Hall. In 1995 she co-founded and directed Spread the Word, London's writer development agency.[58]

Other activityEdit

Evaristo was featured as the "castaway" on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs on 20 September 2020, interviewed by Lauren Laverne.[61][62] A portrait of Evaristo by photographer Sal Idriss is in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery, London.[63]

Honours, awards, fellowshipsEdit


Books only

  • Girl, Woman, Other, a novel (Hamish Hamilton/Penguin, 2019, ISBN 978-0241364901)
  • Mr Loverman, a novel (Penguin UK, 2013; Akashic Books, 2014, ISBN 978-1617752896)
  • Hello Mum, a novella (Penguin UK, 2010; ISBN 978-0141044385)
  • Lara - new, expanded edition (Bloodaxe Books, 2009; ISBN 978-1852248314)
  • Blonde Roots (Hamish Hamilton/Penguin, 2008; Riverhead/Penguin, USA, 2009, ISBN 978-0141031521)
  • Soul Tourists (Hamish Hamilton/Penguin, 2005; ISBN 978-0140297829)
  • The Emperor's Babe (Hamish Hamilton/Penguin, 2001; Penguin USA, 2002, ISBN 978-0140297812)
  • Lara (Angela Royal Publishing, 1997; ISBN 9781899860456)
  • Island of Abraham (Peepal Tree Press, 1994; ISBN 978-0948833601)


  1. ^ Girl, Woman, Other, Penguin.
  2. ^ Wood, Heloise (30 December 2019), "Obama hails Girl, Woman, Other and Normal People as favourite books of 2019", The Bookseller.
  3. ^ a b c d "Bernardine Evaristo, Professor of Creative Writing", Brunel University London.
  4. ^ Bothwell, Ellie (8 September 2013). "On My Radar: Bernadine Evaristo's cultural highlights". The Guardian. United Kingdom. Retrieved 9 September 2014.
  5. ^ "Council", The Royal Society of Literature. Retrieved 28 July 2019.
  6. ^ Sethi, Anita (27 April 2019). "Bernardine Evaristo: 'I want to put presence into absence'". The Guardian. Retrieved 14 October 2019.
  7. ^ Brunel International African Poetry Prize website.
  8. ^ a b "The Complete Works". Archived from the original on 16 February 2018. Retrieved 15 February 2018.
  9. ^ "About Us", Spread the Word.
  10. ^ a b "Theatre of Black Women", Unfinished Histories: Recording the History of Alternative Theatre. Retrieved 29 July 2019.
  11. ^ Black Theatre Forum
  12. ^ Harolds, Laolu (7 September 2019), "Two Nigerian Novelists Make 2019 Booker Prize Shortlist", Nigerian Tribune.
  13. ^ a b c d "Bio", Author's website.
  14. ^ Fadumiye, AdeOla. "Social: Bernadine Evaristo …on the crossroads of culture". Genevieve. Archived from the original on 11 September 2014. Retrieved 9 September 2014.
  15. ^ Payne, Tom (23 March 2003). "A Writer's Life: Bernadine Evaristo". The Telegraph. United Kingdom. Retrieved 9 September 2014.
  16. ^ Innes, C. L. (2007). The Cambridge Introduction to Postcolonial Literatures in English. Cambridge University Press. p. 68. ISBN 978-1139-4655-95. Retrieved 9 September 2014. Bernardine Evaristo grandfather slave.
  17. ^ a b c Bernardine Evaristo biography, British Council, Literature.
  18. ^ "Bernardine Evaristo, Goldsmiths College". Goldsmiths University of London. Retrieved 16 October 2019.
  19. ^ "Bernardine Evaristo on Woolwich: 'We weren't allowed to play outside'". The Guardian. 7 September 2019. Retrieved 16 October 2019.
  20. ^ Merritt, Stephanie (24 August 2008), "When slavery isn't such a black-and-white issue", The Observer.
  21. ^ Kroll. Jeri (December 2018), "The Hybrid Verse Novel and History: Margaret Atwood and Bernardine Evaristo revisioning the past", Axon, Issue 7.2: Contemporary Boundary Crossings and Ways of Speaking Poetically.
  22. ^ a b "The 100 Best Books of the Decade", The Times, 14 November 2009.
  23. ^ The Emperor's Babe, BBC Radio 4, 23 May 2013.
  24. ^ "Extract from Soul Tourists — Analysis", Crossing Borders.
  25. ^ Adams, Sarah (16 July 2005), "What a trip", The Guardian.
  26. ^ Charles, Ron (18 January 2009), "Race Reversal", The Washington Post.
  27. ^ a b c d e f "Bernardine Evaristo" at Diaspora Writers UK. Archived 27 April 2016 at the Wayback Machine.
  28. ^ Bernardine Evaristo, Lara at Bloodaxe Books.
  29. ^ "Hello Mum", Afternoon Drama, BBC Radio 4, 3 August 2012.
  30. ^ "Bernardine Evaristo Guest Edits Style: Putting Black Women and Womxn in the Spotlight", The Sunday Times, 26 July 2020.
  31. ^ Mslexia, Issue 63, Sep/Oct/Nov 2014.
  32. ^ "Ten New Poets by Bernardine Evaristo", Poetry Book Society. Archived 26 April 2014 at the Wayback Machine.
  33. ^ Evaristo, Bernardine (19 October 2019), "Bernardine Evaristo: 'These are unprecedented times for black female writers'", The Guardian.
  34. ^ Osborne, Deirdre (ed.) (2016), The Cambridge Companion to British Black and Asian Literature (1945–2010), Cambridge University Press, p. xvii.
  35. ^ Gee, Maggie (31 August 2013), "Mr Loverman by Bernardine Evaristo – review", The Guardian.
  36. ^ Osman, Diriye (30 June 2014), "The Dazzling Story of an Older, Gay, Caribbean Dandy", HuffPost Queer Voices.
  37. ^ a b The Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize, Jerwood Charitable Foundation.
  38. ^ Fiery Inspiration: Amiri Baraka and the black arts movement, BBC Radio 4, 2015. Retrieved 2 August 2019.
  39. ^ Evaristo, Bernardine (10 January 2014). "Amiri Baraka: my fiery inspiration". The Guardian.
  40. ^ a b "I Long Ago Chose to Take My Community with Me on My Creative Journey | Bernardine Evaristo". Brittle Paper. 4 January 2020. Retrieved 15 January 2020.
  41. ^ Tepper, Anderson (13 December 2019), "The Little Book That Could: How Bernardine Evaristo Became an International Writer-to-Watch in 2019", Vanity Fair.
  42. ^ "Atwood and Rushdie on Booker Prize shortlist". BBC News. 3 September 2019.
  43. ^ Fraine, Laura (17 July 2019), "Shortlist announced for Gordon Burn Prize 2019", New Writing North. Retrieved 29 July 2019.
  44. ^ "The 2019 shortlist has been announced", The Booker Prizes, 3 September 2019.
  45. ^ a b c Flood, Alison (14 October 2019). "Margaret Atwood and Bernardine Evaristo share Booker prize 2019". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 14 October 2019.
  46. ^ "Women's Prize for Fiction shortlist announced". Books+Publishing. 22 April 2020. Retrieved 5 May 2020.
  47. ^ Elkins, Kathleen (30 December 2019), "Barack Obama shares his 19 favorite books of 2019",
  48. ^ "UEA-GUARDIAN MASTERCLASSES", News, Bernardine Evaristo, 19 January 2012.
  49. ^ "#PotW Literary London annual lecture 23 July: Bernardine Evaristo: 'London, Londinium, Londolo: The Endless Possibilities of Re-Imagining London'", Talking Humanities, School of Advanced Study, University of London, 21 July 2014.
  50. ^ Bernardine Evaristo profile at The Guardian.
  51. ^ "Bernardine Evaristo", New Statesman.
  52. ^ "Bernardine Evaristo, Chair of Judges 2012, writer and poet", Caine Prize, 23 April 2012.
  53. ^ Evaristo, Bernardine, "‘There is no magic formula’" (Chair of the 2012 Commonwealth Short Story Prize on what makes a good short story) Commonwealth Writers.
  54. ^ Editorial Board, African Poetry Book Fund. Retrieved 16 October 2019.
  55. ^ "Patrons", SI Leeds Literary Prize. Archived 13 November 2014 at the Wayback Machine.
  56. ^ "I Long Ago Chose to Take My Community with Me on My Creative Journey | Bernardine Evaristo". Brittle Paper. 4 January 2020. Retrieved 15 January 2020.
  57. ^ (in Italian) Caponi, Paolo. Ester Gendusa, Identità nere e cultura europea. La narrativa di Bernardine Evaristo, In: Altre Modernità, Vol. 0, Iss. 14, pp. 211–213 (2015).
  58. ^ a b "Arts Advocacy", Bernardine Evaristo website.
  59. ^ Ashenden, Amy (21 February 2014), "Bernardine Evaristo – Interview", VADA.
  60. ^ "Bernardine Evaristo | Advisory Board", People, Wasafiri.
  61. ^ "Bernardine Evaristo, writer", Desert Island Discs, BBC Radio 4, 20 September 20020.
  62. ^ Thorpe, Vanessa (20 September 2020), "Bernardine Evaristo: living as a lesbian made me stronger", The Observer.
  63. ^ "Bernardine Evaristo - Person - National Portrait Gallery". National Portrait Gallery, London. Retrieved 25 September 2020.
  64. ^ "100 Great Black Britons"20., 20
  65. ^ "ELLE UK Introduces This Year's New Movers and Shakers on THE ELLE LIST, 2020", Hearst Media Centre, 3 September 2020.
  66. ^ "2019 Goodreads Choice Award Best Fiction". Goodreads. Goodreads, Inc. Retrieved 2 June 2020.
  67. ^ "First Rose Bruford College Degrees Awarded", Broadway World, 17 September 2018.
  68. ^ "Fellows & Honorary Fellows", Rose Bruford College.
  69. ^ Awards, The Publishing Triangle.
  70. ^ Bernardine Evaristo, Montgomery Fellows, Dartmouth College.
  71. ^ "Bernardine Evaristo", Hurston/Wright Foundation.
  72. ^ "Bernardine Evaristo & Daljit Nagra: Ten", Bloodaxe Books.
  73. ^ "Bernardine Evaristo" at Casa della poesia.
  74. ^ "News & Events", Allison & Busby.
  75. ^ "No. 59090", The London Gazette (1st supplement), 12 June 2009, p. 16.
  76. ^ Guest, Katy (10 May 2009), "Teenage picks: Six teenagers set to judge Orange Prize alongside the regular panel". The Independent. Retrieved 29 July 2019.
  77. ^ "2010 Judges", The Orange Award for New Writers.
  78. ^ a b "Evaristo, Bernardine 1959–",
  79. ^ Poetry Society, 15 April 2005. Archived 6 October 2016 at the Wayback Machine.
  80. ^ "Former Tutors A–H", UEA.

External linksEdit