Adventurous, compelling and utterly original ? The Times
About Bernardine Evaristo
Bernardine Evaristo was born in Woolwich, south east London, the fourth of eight children, to an English mother, a schoolteacher, and Nigerian father, a welder and local Labour councillor. She was educated at Eltham Hill Girls Grammar School, the Rose Bruford College of Speech and Drama, and Goldsmiths, University of London, where she earned a PhD in Creative Writing. During her teenage years she acted at Greenwich Young People’s Theatre. She is Reader in Creative Writing at Brunel University London.
Evaristo is the author of the books Mr Loverman (2013), Hello Mum (2010), Blonde Roots (2008), Soul Tourists (2005), The Emperor’s Babe (2001; all Penguin), Island Of Abraham (Peepal Tree, 1994), and Lara (Bloodaxe, 2009). Her writing is characterised by experimentation, ranging in genre through poetry, fiction, verse-novels, drama and literary criticism, and typically challenges the myths around various Afro-diasporic histories and identities. She has been the recipient of the EMMA Best Book Award, Big Red Read, Orange Youth Panel Award, a NESTA, and an Arts Council Writer’s Award. The Emperor’s Babe was a Times ‘Book of the Decade’, and has been adapted into a BBC Radio 4 play, as has Hello Mum. She was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2004, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in 2006, and she received an MBE in 2009.
Evaristo is the co-editor of two recent anthologies, and a special issue of Wasafiri magazine: Black Britain: Beyond Definition, which celebrated and reevaluated the black writing scene in Britain. In 2012 she was guest editor of the winter issue of Poetry Review; 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 and experimental voices. Evaristo is also a critic for the Guardian and Independent, and has judged awards including the National Poetry Competition, TS Eliot Prize, Orange First Novel Award and the Next Generation Poet’s List. In 2012 she founded the Brunel University African Poetry Prize. The first monograph on her work, Fiction Unbound by Sebnem Toplu, was published in August 2011 by Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
In these excerpts from Lara, Evaristo’s 2009 verse-novel, we encounter two crucial phases in the narrative, spaced almost fifty years apart. ‘Apapa Docks, Lagos, 1949’ fixes a point of origin and departure in the past of the story’s protagonist – a powerful and memorable portrait of a mother (Lara’s grandmother) remaining on the docks long after a boat carrying her son away has vanished from view. In ‘Epilogue, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 1995’, we encounter, by contrast, a fast paced first-person account of Lara’s journey into South America, where she hopes to find some connection with her roots: “a clue, a photograph of a great-grandfather or mother, / whom I will somehow instantly, miraculously recognise.” Lara’s response to her frenetic, overwhelming journey is communicated through Rio’s sheer wealth of sensory detail, opulent and disorientatingly various, finding the narrator “not knowing what to look for anymore.” Yet this moving account of Lara’s ultimately fruitless search for a firm identity remains hopeful and even celebratory: it is as if through the exuberance of her descriptions she comes to form an appreciation of a future in which these multiple passions and impressions can co-exist and enrich each other. These generous selections, made by the poet herself, provide the perfect introduction to Evaristo’s central concerns and her vivid, lyrical style.
This recording was made for The Poetry Archive on 20 September 2013 at The Soundhouse and was produced by Anne Rosenfeld.