Evaristo was born in London to an English mother, who was a schoolteacher, and Nigerian father, who was a welder, Labour councillor and shop steward. Her paternal grandfather was a Yoruba Saro who returned from Brazil to West Africa. The fourth of eight children, Evaristo was raised in Woolwich, south-east London. She was educated at Eltham Hill Grammar School for Girls, 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, essays and short stories. Two of her books, The Emperor's Babe and Hello Mum, have been adapted into BBC radio plays since 2012. Her eighth book, short stories in both English and Italian, will be published in Italy in 2014. She guest-edited the September 2014 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 London(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 accepted over 100 international invitations as a writer. These involve writer-residencies and visiting fellowships, British Council tours, book tours, teaching creative writing workshops as well as keynotes, talks and panels at many conferences and literary festivals. 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. She is also a patron of the SI Leeds Literary Prize. In 2012, she initiated the Brunel University African Poetry Prize.
In 2006 Evaristo initiated an Arts Council funded report by Spread the Word writers' organisation, 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, with Spread the Word. Twenty poets have thus far been mentored and are already publishing books, winning awards and receiving acclaim for their poetry.
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 1982, together with Paulette Randall and Patricia Hilaire, she was a founder and director of Theatre of Black Women, Britain's first such theatre company, formed at a time when there were almost no acting opportunities for black women in British theatre and film. 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 literature development agency, now in its 20th year.
As a regular commentator on race and ethnicity in the arts, Evaristo has been outspoken about the treatment of ethnic minorities by British publishing industry. In a study called Writing the Future , commissioned by writer development agency Spread the Word, Evaristo stated, “Three decades ago, few novels were published by Britain’s Black and Asian novelists, while 20 years ago, a breakthrough occurred that became a short-lived trend [...] for the past few years, we have seen a return to the literary invisibility of the past, concealed by a deceptive tokenism.”
Honours and awards
Evaristo's books have been a Notable Book of the Year thirteen times in British newspapers.
- 2015 Triangle Publishing Awards: The Ferro-Grumley Award for LGBT Fiction, USA
- 2015 The Montgomery Fellowship, Dartmouth College, USA
- 2014 Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize
- 2010 The Emperor's Babe The Times (UK) "100 Best Books of the Decade"
- 2010 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, USA (finalist)
- 2010 Poetry Book Society Commendation for Ten, co-ed/ Daljit Nagra
- 2009 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award (nominated)
- 2009 Big Red Read Award (Fiction & overall winner)
- 2009 Awarded an MBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours List
- 2009 Orange Prize Youth Panel Award
- 2009 Orange Prize for Fiction (nominated)
- 2009 Arthur C. Clarke Award, USA (nominated)
- 2006 Made a Fellow, Royal Society of Arts
- 2004 Elected a Fellow, Royal Society of Literature
- 2003 NESTA Fellowship Award (National Endowment of Science, Technology & The Arts)
- 2002 UEA Writing Fellow, University of East Anglia
- 2000 The Arts Council of England Writer's Award 2000
- 1999 BT EMMA Best Book Award
- 2014 Appointed The Public Orator, Brunel University London
- 2014 Brunel University London Inspirational Teacher Award - finalist
- 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)
- Adeola Fadumiye. "Social : Bernadine Evaristo …on the crossroads of culture". Genevieve. Retrieved 9 September 2014.
- Tom Payne (23 March 2003). "A Writer's Life: Bernadine Evaristo". United Kingdom: The Telegraph. Retrieved 9 September 2014.
- C. L. Innes (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 biography, British Council, Literature.
- Author's website.
- "Ten New Poets by Bernardine Evaristo", Poetry Book Society.
- Ellie Bothwell (8 September 2013). "On My Radar: Bernadine Evaristo's cultural highlights". United Kingdom: The Guardian. Retrieved 9 September 2014.
- Patrons, SI Leeds Literary Prize.
- "Theatre of Black Women", Unfinished Histories: Recording the History of Alternative Theatre.
- Alison Flood, Report finds UK books world has marginalised and pigeonholed ethnic minorities, The Guardian, 15 April 2015
- Official website
- British Council Arts Group
- Hello Mum by Bernardine Evaristo
- Bernardine Evaristo interview by Lane Ashfeldt, July 2008.