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Evaristo was born in London to an English mother, who was a schoolteacher, and Nigerian father who was a welder, Labour councillor, shop steward and political activist. The fourth of eight children, Evaristo was raised in Woolwich, south-east London. She was educated at Eltham Hill Girls Grammar School, the Rose Bruford College of Speech and Drama and Goldsmiths College, University of London, where she earned a PhD in Creative Writing. She spent her teenage years acting at Greenwich Young People's Theatre. She lives in London with her husband.
Evaristo is the author of seven books of fiction and verse fiction, most recently Mr Loverman (Penguin UK, 2013/ Akashic US, 2014). She also writes radio and stage drama, poetry, non-fiction and short stories. Her eighth book, short stories translated into Italian, is published in 2014. In 2014 she is guest-editor of the September issue of Mslexia magazine; and with students she edited the first Brunel University short story anthology, The Voices Inside Our Heads. Other editorships include the Poetry Society of Great Britain's winter issue of Poetry Review (2012); a special issue of Wasafiri magazine called Black Britain: Beyond Definition (Routledge 2010), with poet Karen McCarthy-Woolf; Ten, an anthology of Black and Asian poets, with poet Daljit Nagra (Bloodaxe Books, 2010). In 2007, she co-edited the New Writing Anthology NW15 (Granta/British Council). She was also editor of Frontseat intercultural magazine in the 1990s.
Teaching and touring
Evaristo has taught creative writing in a variety of settings for over twenty years. She is Reader in Creative Writing at Brunel University (since September 2011) and currently teaches the University of East Anglia-Guardian "How to Tell a Story" course, in London. She has also held many writing fellowships and residencies, including Georgetown University, Washington DC; Barnard College, 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. Since 1997 she has been on more than 80 international writing tours, which involve writer-residencies and visiting fellowships, British Council tours, book tours, teaching creative writing workshops as well as talks and panels at many conference and literary festival appearances. She also tours the UK widely.
Critic and advocate
Evaristo writes book reviews for the national UK newspapers including The Guardian, The Observer, The Independent and The Times. In 2012, she was Chair of judges for the Caine Prize for African Fiction; Chair of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize; judge of the Poetry Society's Poetry News Competition; and a judge of the Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poets. She has been a judge of several other literary awards including the T. S. Eliot Prize, Orange Award for New Writers and Next Generation Poets. In 2012, she initiated the Brunel University African Poetry Prize.
In 2006 Evaristo initiated an Arts Council report into why black and Asian poets were not getting published in the UK, which revealed that under 1% of all published poetry is by non-whites. When the report was published she then initiated The Complete Works poetry mentoring scheme, now in its fourth year. mentoring scheme.
She has also sat on many key councils and advisory committees for various organisations including the Arts Council of England, the London Arts Board, the British Council, the Society of Authors, the Poetry Society (Chair) and Wasafiri international literature magazine.
In the 1980s she was a founder member and director of Theatre of Black Women, Britain's first such theatre company. In the 1990s she organised Britain's first black British writing conference, held at the Museum of London, and Britain's first black British theatre conference, held at the Royal Festival Hall. In 1995 she co-founded and directed Spread the Word literature development agency, now in its 19th year.
Honours and awards
Evaristo's books have been a "Book of the Year" thirteen times in British newspapers, and The Emperor’s Babe was selected by The Times as a "Book of the Decade".
- 2014 Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize, for Mr Loverman
- 2010 The Emperor's Babe was one of The Times (UK) "100 Best Books of the Decade"
- 2010 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award (shortlist)
- 2010 Poetry Book Society Commendation for poetry anthology Ten, co-editor with Daljit Nagra
- 2009 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award (nominated)
- 2009 Big Red Read Award (Fiction and overall winner)
- 2009 Awarded an MBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours List
- 2009 Orange Prize Youth Panel Award
- 2009 Orange Prize for Fiction (longlist)
- 2006 Elected a Fellow, Royal Society of Arts
- 2004 Elected a Fellow, Royal Society of Literature
- 2003 NESTA Fellowship Award
- 2000 Arts Council Writers Award
- 1999 BT EMMA Best Book Award
- 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)
- Island of Abraham (Peepal Tree Press, 1994; ISBN 978-0948833601)
- Official website
- British Council Arts Group
- Hello Mum by Bernardine Evaristo
- Bernardine Evaristo interview by Lane Ashfeldt, July 2008.