Booker Laureate Bernardine Evaristo will talk about her new memoir, Manifesto, for U of C’s online event

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At the end of 2019, British author Bernardine Evaristo was spending a lot of time talking about herself.

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She believes she did hundreds of interviews after winning the prestigious 2019 Booker Prize for her novel Girl, Woman, Other – which was shared with Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments. A Booker win always means a spike in media interest and Evaristo was nothing new to the game. Girl, Woman, Other is her ninth book. But his victory also represented important firsts for the prestigious 53-year-old literary prize. Evaristo was both the first black woman and the first black British writer to win the Booker Prize, which naturally led the conversation to overlap with Evaristo’s activism as an advocate for writers of color.

She also talked about her story, her life and her list of books and how it all came together to inform her writing and activism. All of this led to his follow-up, Manifesto: On Never Giving Up, his first non-fiction work.

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“It made sense when it came to negotiating my next book with my publisher that I try to encapsulate this in a book because it marks this shift in my career and also the story of my life told through the prism of my creativity. I call it a memoir and a meditation because it’s a memoir but it’s not really an autobiography as such. It’s a book that meditates on certain things, certain aspects of my life like my creativity, my activism, my creative process, etc. It’s not really a memoir in the sense that there would be a chronology of my life from A to Z, for example.

Evaristo will be part of an online interview and Q&A on February 3 as a University of Calgary Distinguished Guest Writer, a position previously held by Atwood, Michael Ondaatje, Neil Gaiman , Lee Maracle and Zadie Smith. While Manifesto may not follow a linear arc in Evaristo’s life, certain incidents have marked its path. Growing up with a Nigerian father and a British mother, bricks were thrown through her parents’ window.

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“I was thinking about how I got here, so I went back to my childhood, my legacy beyond my childhood and the people who came before me,” she says. “It seemed like a good starting point. And to see how I was shaped by my family, my upbringing, my parents – working class Nigerian and English political activists – the racially hostile 1960s and 1970s era of my childhood. I look at how it shaped me and I also wanted to look at my political maturity as a feminist when I went to drama school… There’s a chapter about homes and places I’ve lived and looking this decision I made to lead a creative life which meant, in my case, that I didn’t have a lot of money, so I was always moving.

Having a large number of works spanning fiction, verse fiction, poetry, drama and short stories, Evaristo entered the project with a clear awareness of her craft and process. Given the cliché “write what you know”, it is often assumed that most writers write autobiographically. But Evaristo says it’s an assumption that seems more prevalent among some writers than others. His novels include everything from 2013’s Mr. Loverman, about a locked-up 70-year-old gay Caribbean man, to 2009’s Blonde Roots, a satire that imagines it was Africans who enslaved Europeans.

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“I talk about it in Manifesto,” she says. “It’s very interesting. It happens to women writers, it happens to black women writers, where people think it’s all rooted in your own experiences when really it’s not.

Girl, Woman, Other is one of the few exceptions, but Evaristo says only a few main characters of the book’s 12 black women are based on her own experiences, she says.

Following a Booker-winning novel is probably a daunting prospect and Evaristo won’t reveal what she’s working on next. But she drops a few clues.

“By the time my next novel comes out, it might be two or three years and there will be a big gap,” she says. “Because I’ve been writing non-fiction for a few years, I really want to get back to creating fictional worlds. I’m really excited about that. I understand there’s going to be this voice in my head telling me say, ‘Is this going to be received the same as Girl, Woman Other?’ But I just have to reject the voice. That’s what I always do anyway.

Bernadine Evaristo’s virtual public chat will take place on February 3. Visit ucalgary.ca for more information.

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