The Booker Prize winners for the year 2019 are Margaret Atwood and Bernardine Evaristo. The judges broke the rules by declaring a tie this year. Atwood won for The Testament, the sequel to her acclaimed The Handmaid’s Tale, while Evaristo won for Girl, Woman, Other. Evaristo is the first black woman to win the literary award since its inception in 1969. “We black British women know that if we don’t write ourselves into literature no one else will,” Evaristo was quoted as saying.
In Girl, Woman, Other, Evaristo’s eighth novel, there are 12 characters and most of them are black British women. Constituted of chapters which hold chapters within, the narrative overlaps and their experiences collide as they move through different decades.
“There is no overarching story, but to be racialised as black brings with it some level of connectedness. As a result, there is something unconditional about the relationships here; the protagonists support each other, and are often forgiving and gentle,” writes Micha Frazer-Carroll in her review for The Guardian. “Evaristo’s world is not idealised, but there is something uniquely beautiful about it,” she adds,
Born in 1959 to an English mother and Nigerian father, she is the fourth of eight siblings and was trained as an actor. She has been a vocal advocate of the need for diversity and inclusion of artists of any colour. She also initiated the Brunel University African Poetry Prize that is aimed at “development, celebration and promotion of poetry from Africa”.
Her novels Lara (1997) and The Emperor’s Babe (2001) remain her most celebrated works. Spanning across generations and space, in Lara she tells the story of two different families by placing the eponymous protagonist at the centre. It is a novel-in-verse and remains a blinding work of imagination and a rich literary source. In The Emperor’s Babe, Evaristo looks at Zuleika, a girl of Sudanese parents, and her affair with the Roman emperor Septimius Severus.
Evaristo is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and the Royal Society of Arts. In 2009, she was awarded an MBE or ‘Member of the Order of the British Empire’. She is Professor of Creative Writing at Brunel University London.