Bernardine Evaristo

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Bernardine Evaristo, MBE FRSL FRSA, is a multiple award-winning British writer.


Evaristo was born in London to an English mother, who was a schoolteacher, and a Nigerian father, who migrated to Britain in 1949 and became a welder.[1] Her paternal grandfather was a Yoruba Saro who returned from Brazil to Nigeria and her paternal grandmother was from Abeokuta in Nigeria.[2][3][4] 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. The fourth of eight children, Evaristo was raised in Woolwich.[5] She 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 of Philosophy. She is Professor of Creative Writing at Brunel University London. She lives in London with her husband.[1]


Evaristo is the author of seven books of fiction and verse fiction that explore aspects of the African diaspora[citation needed]. She is a noted experimenter with form and narrative perspective[citation needed], often merging the past with the present, fiction with poetry, the factual with the speculative, and reality with alternate realities[citation needed].

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.[6][7] It won the Publishing Triangle Ferro-Grumley Award for LGBT Fiction (USA) and the Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize.[8]

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.[9] This won the EMMA Best Novel Award in 1998.[5]

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.[10][11]

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.[12] Blonde Roots won the Orange Youth Panel Award and Big Red Read Award.[5]

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.[13]

She has also had numerous creative works produced and published including drama for stage and radio, as well as poetry, short fiction, non-fiction and literary criticism.[citation needed]

As an editor, she guest-edited the September 2014 issue of Mslexia magazine. Other editorships include 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,[14] 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.[15]

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.[16]

Teaching and touring[edit]

Evaristo has taught creative writing in a variety of settings for more than 20 years[citation needed]. She is currently Professor of Creative Writing at Brunel University London[17][18] and she taught the University of East Anglia-Guardian "How to Tell a Story" course for four seasons in London. She has also been awarded many writing fellowships and residencies, including the Montgomery Fellowship at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, in 2015; 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. Since 1997 she has accepted more than 140 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.[1] She has also toured the UK widely and frequently hosts and chairs events.

Critic and advocate[edit]

Evaristo writes book reviews for several national UK newspapers, including The Guardian,[19] The Observer, The Independent and The Times. In 2012, she was Chair of judges for the Caine Prize for African Writing[20] and Chair of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize.[21] She has also judged my 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 a patron of the SI Leeds Literary Prize.[22] In 2012, she initiated the Brunel University African Poetry Prize.[1][17]

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 less than 1% of all published poetry is by non-whites.[23] When the report was published she then initiated The Complete Works poetry mentoring scheme, now in its fourth year, with Spread the Word.[24] Twenty poets have thus far been mentored and are already publishing books, winning awards and receiving acclaim for their poetry.[25]

She has also served 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.[1]

In the 1980s, together with Paulette Randall and Patricia Hilaire, she founded Theatre of Black Women,[26] 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 literature development agency, now in its 20th year.[23]

Honours and awards[edit]

Evaristo's books have been a Notable Book of the Year 13 times in British newspapers.[1]

  • 2017 Elected a Fellow, the English Association (est.1906)
  • 2015 Triangle Publishing Awards: The Ferro-Grumley Award for LGBT Fiction, USA[27]
  • 2015 The Montgomery Fellowship, Dartmouth College, USA[28]
  • 2014 Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize[8]
  • 2010 The Emperor's Babe, The Times (UK) "100 Best Books of the Decade"
  • 2010 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, USA (finalist)[29]
  • 2010 Poetry Book Society Commendation for Ten, co-ed/ Daljit Nagra
  • 2009 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, nominated for Blonde Roots[30]
  • 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 for Blonde Roots[31]
  • 2009 Orange Prize for Fiction, nominated for Blonde Roots[15]
  • 2009 Arthur C. Clarke Award, USA, nominated for Blonde Roots [15]
  • 2006 Made a Fellow, Royal Society of Arts[15] (est. 1754)
  • 2004 Elected a Fellow, Royal Society of Literature[32] (est. 1820)
  • 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, for The Emperor’s Babe [15]
  • 1999 BT EMMA Best Book Award[5]

Academic honours[edit]

  • 2015 CBASS Award for Excellence, Brunel University London
  • 2014 Appointed The Public Orator, Brunel University London
  • 2014 Brunel University London Inspirational Teacher Award - finalist


Books only


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Bio", Author's website.
  2. ^ Adeola Fadumiye. "Social: Bernadine Evaristo …on the crossroads of culture". Genevieve. Retrieved 9 September 2014. 
  3. ^ Tom Payne (23 March 2003). "A Writer's Life: Bernadine Evaristo". United Kingdom: The Telegraph. Retrieved 9 September 2014. 
  4. ^ 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. 
  5. ^ a b c d Bernardine Evaristo biography Archived 3 October 2007 at the Wayback Machine., British Council, Literature.
  6. ^ Maggie Gee, "Mr Loverman by Bernardine Evaristo – review", The Guardian, 31 August 2013.
  7. ^ Diriye Osman, "The Dazzling Story of an Older, Gay, Caribbean Dandy", HuffPost Queer Voices, 30 June 2014.
  8. ^ a b The Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize, Jerwood Charitable Foundation.
  9. ^ Bernardine Evaristo, Lara at Bloodaxe Books.
  10. ^ "Extract from Soul Tourists — Analysis", Crossing Borders.
  11. ^ Sarah Adams, "What a trip", The Guardian, 16 July 2005.
  12. ^ Ron Charles, "Race Reversal", The Washington Post, 18 January 2009.
  13. ^ "Hello Mum", Afternoon Drama, BBC Radio 4, 3 August 2012.
  14. ^ "Ten New Poets by Bernardine Evaristo", Poetry Book Society.
  15. ^ a b c d e "Bernardine Evaristo" at Diaspora Writers UK.
  16. ^ "Bernadine Evaristo presents two-part show on BBC Radio 4", College of Business, Arts and Social Sciences, Brunel University London, 26 October 2015.
  17. ^ a b Bernardine Evaristo, Professor of Creative Writing, Brunel University London.
  18. ^ Ellie Bothwell (8 September 2013). "On My Radar: Bernadine Evaristo's cultural highlights". United Kingdom: The Guardian. Retrieved 9 September 2014. 
  19. ^ Bernatrdine Evaristo profile at The Guardian.
  20. ^ "Bernardine Evaristo, Chair of Judges 2012, writer and poet", Caine Prize, 23 April 2012.
  21. ^ "‘There is no magic formula’" (Chair of the 2012 Commonwealth Short Story Prize on what makes a good short story) Commonwealth Writers.
  22. ^ Patrons, SI Leeds Literary Prize.
  23. ^ a b "Arts Advocacy", Bernardine Evaristo website.
  24. ^ "People behind the project: Founder of TCW-Bernardine Evaristo MBE", The Complete WorksII.
  25. ^ Amy Ashenden, "Bernardine Evaristo – Interview", VADA, 21 February 2014.
  26. ^ "Theatre of Black Women", Unfinished Histories: Recording the History of Alternative Theatre.
  27. ^ Awards, The Publishing Triangle.
  28. ^ Bernardine Evaristo, Montgomery Fellows, Dartmouth College.
  29. ^ "Bernardine Evaristo", Hurston/Wright Foundation.
  30. ^ "Bernardine Evaristo" at Casa della poesia.
  31. ^ "2010 Judges", The Orange Award for New Writers.
  32. ^ Poetry Society, 15 April 2005.

External links[edit]