British writer Bernardine Evaristo is the award-winning author of seven 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 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, she received an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List in 2009, and she was appointed a Fellow of the English Association in 2017. She joined the governing Council of the Royal Society of Literature in 2016.
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. Her novel Mr Loverman is in development with BBC television drama and the Bush Theatre, London.
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 competitions.
Her literary criticism has appeared in the national newspapers including the Guardian, Observer, Times, Independent and in the New Statesman. She has judged many literary awards including the Goldsmiths Prize in 2016. In 2012 she was Chair of both the Caine Prize for African Fiction and the Commonwealth Short Story Prize.
Since 1997 she has accepted invitations to participate in over 150 international trips as a writer. She gives readings and delivers keynotes, chairs panel discussions and delivers creative writing activities and courses. She has also toured the UK widely.
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.
She is a staunch and longstanding advocate for the inclusion of artists and writers of colour and she has initiated schemes to ensure that they are heard and represented in the creative industries. Her recent advocacy literary projects include founding The Complete Works mentoring scheme in 2008 (http:thecompleteworkspoetry.com) which has seen 30 poets mentored. Most of them have since 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 founded the annual £3000 Brunel International African Poetry Prize in 2012 (http://www.africanpoetryprize.org/). All the shortlisted and winning poets have had poetry pamphlets published with the African Poetry Book Fund Next Generation Series. These include many of the rising stars of African poetry including Safia Elhillo, Inua Ellams, Viola Allo, Amy Lukau, Kayo Chingonyni, Gbenga Adesina and Nick Makoha. The first winner of the Prize, Warsan Shire, recently collaborated with Beyonce on her visual album Lemonade which features her poetry throughout.
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.