Bernardine Evaristo

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Bernardine Evaristo
London, England, UK
OccupationNovelist, critic, poet, playwright, academic

Bernardine Evaristo, MBE FRSL FRSA, FEA, is the award-winning author of eight books of fiction and verse fiction. Her other writing includes short fiction, drama, poetry, essays, literary criticism, and projects for stage and radio. Two of her books have been adapted into BBC Radio 4 dramas. She is Professor of Creative Writing at Brunel University London[1][2] and Vice-Chair of the Royal Society of Literature.

Evaristo is also a longstanding advocate for the inclusion of writers and artists of colour. She founded the Brunel International African Poetry Prize[3] in 2012 and The Complete Works poets development scheme (2007–17). She co-founded Spread the Word writer development agency (1995–present) and in the 1980s, Britain's first black women's theatre company, Theatre of Black Women.


Evaristo was born in Eltham, south-east London and christened Bernardine Anne Mobolaji Evaristo. 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.[4] Her paternal grandfather was a Yoruba Aguda or Saro who returned from Brazil to Nigeria and her paternal grandmother was from Abeokuta in Nigeria.[5][6][7] 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.[8] Evaristo was educated at Greenwich Young People's Theatre, Eltham Hill Grammar School for Girls, the Rose Bruford College of Speech and Drama and Goldsmiths College, University of London, where she earned her doctorate. 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 eighteen.


Evaristo is the author of eight books of fiction and verse fiction that explore aspects of the African diaspora.[1] She notably experiments with form and narrative perspective,[1] 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).[9]

Her most recent work is 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.[10][11] It won the Publishing Triangle Ferro-Grumley Award for LGBT Fiction (USA) and the Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize.[12]

Her other books include the verse novel Lara (Bloodaxe Books, 2009, with an earlier version pbd 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.[13] This won the EMMA Best Novel Award in 1998.[8]

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. 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; and it was adapted into a BBC Radio 4 play in 2013.

Next she published Soul Tourists (Penguin, 2005), about a couple driving across Europe to the Middle East, which featured ghosts of colour from European history.[14][15]

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.[16] Blonde Roots won the Orange Youth Panel Award and Big Red Read Award.[8]

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.[17]

As an editor, she guest-edited the September 2014 issue of Mslexia magazine, 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,[18] 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, and[19] one of the editors of Black Women Talk Poetry anthology, Britain's first such substantial anthology.

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.[20]

Teaching and touring[edit]

Other than at Brunel, Evaristo has taught creative writing in a variety of settings 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.[citation needed]

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.[4] She chaired the 32nd and 33rd British Council Berlin Literature Seminar in 2017 & 2018. She has also toured the UK widely and frequently hosts and chairs events.[citation needed]

Critic and advocate[edit]

Evaristo has written many book reviews for UK publications, including The Guardian,[21] The Observer, The Independent, The Times, The Times Literary Supplement and the New Statesman. Aside from founding the Brunel International African Poetry Prize.[4] In 2012 she was Chair of judges for both the Caine Prize for African Writing[22] and the Commonwealth Short Story Prize.[23]

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 in the US, and judges all their prizes. She is a patron of the SI Leeds Literary Prize.[24] In 2019 she is the judge of the Glenna Luschei Prize for African Poetry, and the Polari First Book Prize.

In 2006 Evaristo initiated an Arts Council-funded report delivered by Spread the Word writer development agency into why black[25] and Asian poets were not getting published in the UK, which revealed that less than 1% of all published poetry is by non-whites.[26]

When the report was published she then initiated The Complete Works poetry mentoring scheme, with Dr Nathalie Teitler and Spread the Word.[27] 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.[28]

She 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.[4]

In the 1980s, together with Paulette Randall and Patricia Hilaire, she founded Theatre of Black Women,[29] Britain's first such theatre company, formed at a time when there were limited 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, London's writer development agency.[26]

Honours, awards, fellowships[edit]

Evaristo's books have been a Notable Book of the Year 13 times in British newspapers.[4]


Books only

  • 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. ^ a b c d "Bernardine Evaristo, Professor of Creative Writing", Brunel University London.
  2. ^ Ellie Bothwell (8 September 2013). "On My Radar: Bernadine Evaristo's cultural highlights". United Kingdom: The Guardian. Retrieved 9 September 2014.
  3. ^ Brunel International African Poetry Prize website.
  4. ^ a b c d e "Bio", Author's website.
  5. ^ Adeola Fadumiye. "Social: Bernadine Evaristo …on the crossroads of culture". Genevieve. Archived from the original on 11 September 2014. Retrieved 9 September 2014.
  6. ^ Tom Payne (23 March 2003). "A Writer's Life: Bernadine Evaristo". United Kingdom: The Telegraph. Retrieved 9 September 2014.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ a b c Bernardine Evaristo biography, British Council, Literature.
  9. ^ Stephanie Merritt, "When slavery isn't such a black-and-white issue", The Observer, 24 August 2008.
  10. ^ Maggie Gee, "Mr Loverman by Bernardine Evaristo – review", The Guardian, 31 August 2013.
  11. ^ Diriye Osman, "The Dazzling Story of an Older, Gay, Caribbean Dandy", HuffPost Queer Voices, 30 June 2014.
  12. ^ a b The Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize, Jerwood Charitable Foundation.
  13. ^ Bernardine Evaristo, Lara at Bloodaxe Books.
  14. ^ "Extract from Soul Tourists — Analysis", Crossing Borders.
  15. ^ Sarah Adams, "What a trip", The Guardian, 16 July 2005.
  16. ^ Ron Charles, "Race Reversal", The Washington Post, 18 January 2009.
  17. ^ "Hello Mum", Afternoon Drama, BBC Radio 4, 3 August 2012.
  18. ^ "Ten New Poets by Bernardine Evaristo" Archived 26 April 2014 at the Wayback Machine, Poetry Book Society.
  19. ^ a b c d e "Bernardine Evaristo" Archived 27 April 2016 at the Wayback Machine at Diaspora Writers UK.
  20. ^ "Bernadine Evaristo presents two-part show on BBC Radio 4", College of Business, Arts and Social Sciences, Brunel University London, 26 October 2015.
  21. ^ Bernatrdine Evaristo profile at The Guardian.
  22. ^ "Bernardine Evaristo, Chair of Judges 2012, writer and poet", Caine Prize, 23 April 2012.
  23. ^ "‘There is no magic formula’" (Chair of the 2012 Commonwealth Short Story Prize on what makes a good short story) Commonwealth Writers.
  24. ^ Patrons Archived 13 November 2014 at the Wayback Machine, SI Leeds Literary Prize.
  25. ^ ‹See Tfd›(in Italian) Paolo Caponi. Ester Gendusa, Identità nere e cultura europea. La narrativa di Bernardine Evaristo, In: Altre Modernità, Vol 0, Iss. 14, pp. 211-213 (2015).
  26. ^ a b "Arts Advocacy", Bernardine Evaristo website.
  27. ^ "People behind the project: Founder of TCW-Bernardine Evaristo MBE", The Complete WorksII.
  28. ^ Amy Ashenden, "Bernardine Evaristo – Interview", VADA, 21 February 2014.
  29. ^ "Theatre of Black Women", Unfinished Histories: Recording the History of Alternative Theatre.
  30. ^ Awards, The Publishing Triangle.
  31. ^ Bernardine Evaristo, Montgomery Fellows, Dartmouth College.
  32. ^ "Bernardine Evaristo", Hurston/Wright Foundation.
  33. ^ "Bernardine Evaristo" at Casa della poesia.
  34. ^ "2010 Judges", The Orange Award for New Writers.
  35. ^ Poetry Society, 15 April 2005.

External links[edit]