On Tuesday evening, Bernadine Evaristo, British author and Winner of The 2019 Booker Prize, addressed The Phil as one of this year’s Honorary Patrons. With a trendy colourful bookcase background, the author spoke with Phil President Kate Maher on her literary success, creative process and future plans.
“It’s made a huge difference to my career literally overnight, it is a really powerful prize”, Evaristo told The Phil’s Zoom audience. The author, who is known for exploring the experiences of the African diaspora in her writing, won the Booker Prize in 2019 for the best original novel written in the English language for her most recent book, Girl, Woman, Other. This beloved novel saw Evaristo as the first woman of colour to reach the number one Best-Selling Author on the paperback charts. Her pride in this inspiring accomplishment, along with her sense of humour, was evident when she proudly showed off her award, saying “it looks like one of those chocolate coins you get in a coffee shop!” Evaristo explained that, in her writing, she is determined to reach as many people as possible, something she feels she did not truly achieve until winning the award.
“Evaristo is fearless in her literary experimentation, as can be seen when she disposes with traditional grammar in Girl, Woman, Other.”
On being asked about how she came to find her distinctive voice in her work, the author said she owed it to her time spent in the theatre. “It evolved over a long period of time, I began writing for the theatre when I was at drama school and I performed in my own work and then moved into poetry.” Evaristo is fearless in her literary experimentation, as can be seen when she disposes with traditional grammar in Girl, Woman, Other: “I call it fusion fiction, as the characters are all interconnected one way or another, and that form without those traditional paragraphs and sentences gave it this really free flowing experimentation. It was very liberating for me as a writer to write like that”.
“‘As an actor you step inside your character to become them. If I can’t bring my characters alive from the inside I have failed in some way.’”
Kickstarting her creative career performing and writing her own plays gave Evaristo her process of creating characters. “As an actor you step inside your character to become them. If I can’t bring my characters alive from the inside I have failed in some way.” Her characters are vivid and funny, and generally born out of research. However, the author revealed that she did not undertake her usual research for Girl, Woman, Other: “In a sense the research has been my life and the people I’ve known, and I think that’s one of the positive things about ageing and maturing as a writer is that you have more to draw on.”
“The author enjoys working closely with her students as their passion for creative writing is good for her. She is inspired by the younger generation.”
Evaristo believes that her experiences as a creative writing lecturer have helped her think critically about what exactly good literature is and how it works. The author enjoys working closely with her students as their passion for creative writing is good for her. She is inspired by the younger generation. “I admire the way in which some of the political issues out there are issues they are growing up with and accepting. I feel that they are progressive — I consider myself progressive!” Evaristo loves that her students are following their passion and she salutes their bravery: “This society is all about getting a traditional job, making a living and getting a mortgage — anybody who is choosing a creative arts subject is automatically rebelling against what’s expected of them in creating a foundation for the rest of your life and I really admire that”.
When asked what books are special to her and what she thinks everyone should read, Evaristo deemed two works essential: The Joys of Motherhood by Nigerian writer Buchi Emecheta, and Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale. The author also added that she is aware that, when asked for recommendations she gives books written by writers of colour, – “Those are the books that are overlooked”.
At the end of this hectic and strange year Evaristo plans on sitting down and looking at everything she’s done since winning the Booker Prize last year. “There comes a point where you can’t talk anymore. You have to shut yourself away and get on with the writing.” Evaristo confirmed that her focus for the upcoming year is a new book. It goes without saying that after the success and brilliance of Girl, Woman, Other, any future work of Evaristo’s will be highly anticipated.