British-Nigerian writer Bernardine Evaristo is the award-winning author of eight books and numerous other published and produced works that span the genres of novels, poetry, verse fiction, short fiction, essays, literary criticism, and radio and theatre drama. She is also an editor of anthologies and special issues of magazines. Her writing and projects are based around her interest in the African diaspora. She is Professor of Creative Writing at Brunel University London.
Her verse novel The Emperor’s Babe was adapted into a BBC Radio 4 play in 2013 and her novella Hello Mum was adapted as a BBC Radio 4 play in 2012. In 2015 she wrote and presented a two-part BBC Radio 4 documentary called Fiery Inspiration: Amiri Baraka and the Black Arts Movement.
In 2019 she is the inaugural Woolwich Laureate, appointed by the Greenwich & Docklands International Festival. She will reconnect to the home town she left at eighteen, and write about it. #madeinwoolwich
Her editorships including co-editing NW15 (Granta/British Council) and Ten: New Poets (Bloodaxe). She guest-edited the Winter 2012 issue of Poetry Review, Britain’s leading poetry journal. Her issue, Offending Frequencies, featured more poets of colour than had ever previously been published in a single issue of the journal, as well as many female, radical, experimental and outspoken voices. She also co-edited a special issue of Wasafiri magazine in 2009: Black Britain: Beyond Definition, which celebrated and reevaluated the black writing scene in Britain; and she guest-edited the Autumn 2014 issue of Mslexia, Britain’s best-selling writing magazine. She is on the Editorial Board of the African Poetry Book Fund, USA, for all its publications and prizes.
Her literary criticism has appeared in the national newspapers including the Guardian, Times Literary Supplement, Observer, Times, Independent and New Statesman. She has judged many literary awards including the Orange, TS Eliot, National Poetry Competition, Costa and Goldsmiths. In 2012 she was Chair of both the Caine Prize for African Fiction and the Commonwealth Short Story Prize.
The first monograph on her work, Fiction Unbound by Sebnem Toplu, was published in August 2011 by Cambridge Scholars Publishing. A second monograph by Ester Gendusa was published in Italy in 2015. Her books have been translated into several languages including Czech, Finnish, Hungarian, Italian & Mandarin.
Her awards include the Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize, EMMA Best Book Award, Publishing Triangle Ferro-Grumley Award for LGBT Fiction for Mr Loverman (USA), Big Red Read Award, Orange Youth Panel Award, NESTA Fellowship Award and the Arts Council of England Writers’ Award 2000. Her books have been a Notable Book of the Year thirteen times in British newspapers and The Emperor’s Babe was a (London) Times ‘Book of the Decade’.
She was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2004, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in 2006, a Fellow of the English Association in 2017 and a Fellow of Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance in 2018. She received an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List in 2009. She joined the governing Council of the Royal Society of Literature in 2016 and became Vice Chair in 2017.
Since 1996 she has accepted many invitations to undertake international trips as a writer. She gives readings, talks, delivers keynotes, chairs panels and delivers creative writing activities and courses.
Bernardine is a staunch and longstanding activist and advocate for the inclusion of artists and writers of colour, and she has initiated several successful schemes to ensure increased representation in the creative industries. She co-founded Theatre of Black Women with Patricia St Hilaire and Paulette Randall in the 80s, and Spread the Word writer development agency with Ruth Borthwick in the 90s (1995-ongoing). Her recent literary advocacy projects include founding The Complete Works poets’ mentoring scheme (2007-2017) to redress the under 1% statistic of publications by poets of colour in the UK identified in the Arts’ Council’s Free Verse report she initiated. It has so far seen 30 poets of colour mentored by many of Britain’s leading poets. Most of the mentees have now been published and won some of Britain’s top literature prizes including the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award (Sarah Howe, 2016) and the Forward Prize for Best Debut Collection (Mona Arshi, 2015). She also founded the annual £3000 Brunel International African Poetry Prize in (2012-ongoing). Winners and shortlisted poets include many of the now rising stars of African poetry: Gbenga Adesina, Viola Allo, Leila Chatti, Kayo Chingonyni, Safia Elhillo, Inua Ellams, Amy Lukau, Nick Makoha and many others. The first winner of the Prize in 2012, Warsan Shire, collaborated with Beyonce on her visual album Lemonade in 2016, which features her poetry throughout. All the shortlisted and winning poets of the Prize have had poetry pamphlets published with the Next Generation African Poets Series of box sets, with the African Poetry Book Fund, as well as first collections.
Bernardine Evaristo was born the fourth of eight children, in Woolwich, south east London, to an English mother (of English, Irish and German heritage) and a Nigerian father (of Nigerian and Brazilian heritage). Her father was a welder and local Labour councillor; her mother was a schoolteacher. She was educated at Eltham Hill Girls’ Grammar School, the Rose Bruford College of Speech & Drama, and Goldsmiths, University of London, where she earned her Doctorate of Philosophy (Creative Writing). She spent her teenage years at Greenwich Young People’s Theatre, which was where she first became involved in the arts.
She lives in London with her husband.