Bernardine Evaristo, Great Writers Inspire at Home 2017

Bernardine Evaristo

Biography

Born in London, Bernardine Evaristo (1959– ) studied at Rose Bruford College of Speech and Drama and went on to co-found the Theatre of Black Women in 1982. Her focus then shifted from performance to writing, and she has gone on to publish seven books of poetry and prose, as well as gaining a PhD in Creative Writing from Goldsmiths, University of London. She has won numerous literary awards, and her verse novel, The Emperor’s Babe was selected by The Times as one of the ‘100 Best Books of the Decade’ in 2010. She is currently Professor of Creative Writing at Brunel University London.

[Evaristo’s] narratives raise crucial questions around what it means to be ‘here’, producing post-national landscapes in which Britain appears as the crossroads for a series of global movements and migrations.

James Procter

Writing

Evaristo’s work spans times, places, and literary genres, often exploring what she has called ‘the hidden narratives of the African diaspora’ and ‘cross[ing] the borders of genre, race, culture, history, and […] sexuality’. From The Emperor’s Babe (2001), set in multicultural Roman London in the 3rd century CE, to the semi-autobiographical Lara, which traces its path across seven generations and three continents, Evaristo’s work reimagines neglected histories in vibrant, evocative ways. Challenging the reader to contemplate the past and its legacy in the present, Blonde Roots (2008) inverts the racial dynamics of the transatlantic slave trade, depicting a world in which Europeans are enslaved by Africans, while her most recent novel, Mr Loverman (2013), examines sexuality and societal pressures through the experience of her Antiguan-born, London-living protagonist.

Bernardine Evaristo (Photo: Hayley Madden)

Bernardine Evaristo (Photo: Hayley Madden)

Adeptly combining verse and prose, Evaristo’s writing defies easy categorisation in a way that simultaneously reflects the refusal of her characters to be pigeon-holed into one, singular identity. She has made the form of the ‘verse novel’ her own, utilising her earlier experience of theatre and performance to infuse her work with a rhythm, tone, and voice that allows her writing to straddle the boundaries between the written and the spoken word. As author Ali Smith has observed, ‘Bernardine Evaristo can take any story from any time and turn it into something vibrating with life’.

—Justine McConnell, 2017


Cite this: McConnell, Justine. “Bernardine Evaristo.” Postcolonial Writers Make Worlds, 2017, https://writersmakeworlds.com/bernardine-evaristo/. Accessed 15 October 2017.


Resources

  Resource page for The Emperor’s Babe (2001), including a summary, contextual material and an annotatable extract
  Bernardine Evaristo on Black British History, Free Thinking, BBC Radio 3
Bernardine Evaristo, Keith Piper, Miranda Kaufmann and Kehinde Andrews consider the question of what it means to be Black British and how a wider history should be taught and reflected in literature.
  Bernardine Evaristo: ‘Books expand our imaginations’, British Council Voices Magazine (2017)
  Bernardine Evaristo’s official website

Bibliography

Novels

Mr Loverman (2013)

Blonde Roots (2010)

Hello Mum (2010)

Lara (revised and expanded edition, 2009)

Soul Tourists (2005)

The Emperor’s Babe (2001)

Lara (1997)

Poetry

The Emperor’s Babe (2001)

Island of Abraham (1994)

Drama

Madame Bitterfly and the Stockwell Diva (radio play, 2003)

Mapping the Edge, written with Alison Fell and Amanda Dalton (2002)