Desert Island Discs: 5 things we learned about Girl, Woman, Other author Bernardine Evaristo

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Girl, Woman, Other author Bernardine Evaristo just appeared on a brilliant Desert Island Discs episode, where she shared her life experiences. From her response to the criticism over her Booker Prize win to the complicated relationship she has with her father – here are five fascinating things Evaristo opened up about.

Bernardine Evaristo is the celebrated writer and activist who won last year’s Booker Prize with her outstanding book Girl, Woman, Other. She’s also the co-founder of Britain’s first Black women’s theatre company.

Aside from these amazing achievements, Evaristo is a very fascinating, frank and funny individual, who we would really like to just have a long natter with over a bottle of wine and some crisps and dip. 

Just recently, in an interview with Elizabeth Day on the How To Fail podcast, Evaristo shared some very wise words about the ageist pressures women face. 

And she’s just been on another favourite podcast, Desert Island Discs, sharing more of her personal experiences and unique outlooks on the world. 

While discussing the eight songs she’d take to a desert island with her, Evaristo talked about what it was like growing up in a bi-racial family; why she never thought about becoming a writer; how she ended up living in a “Black womanist” community during the 80s; and the reality of winning the Booker Prize alongside The Handmaid’s Tale author Margaret Atwood. 

Phew!

Let’s take a look at some of the most fascinating insights she shared…

On growing up in a mixed-race family

“There were identity issues about ‘Do I really fit into any kind of Black culture when I have a white mother?’ and I wasn’t always welcome, either, in Black spaces because I was mixed race,” Evaristo recalls. 

She continues to explain how, while researching her family history for a semi-autobiographical novel, Lara, in 1997, she finally “reconciled her identity”. 

“I’ve never looked back from that,” she says. “I identify as a Black woman. And I’m happy to claim that as my identity, and within that I’m also a mixed-race woman, or you might say bi-racial or whatever term is around that comes in the future. And I’m very solid in it.”

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Bernardine Evaristo with joint winner Margaret Atwood at the 2019 Booker Prize Winner Announcement.

On her complicated relationship with her father

Evaristo reflects on the time she once crossed the road to avoid being seen with her Nigerian father.

“I remember when I was about 11, seeing him walking down the street towards me and I crossed the road because I didn’t want to say hello to him because I didn’t want to be associated with him,” she says. 

“I mean, that feels terrible now, but that’s what it was like, because growing up in the 1960s and 70s, in a very white area, there was nothing around us to tell us that being a person of colour was a good thing.”

She also explains why her father taught her nothing about her Nigerian heritage, adding: “He had four boys, four girls, at a time when there was a lot of racism on the streets before the Race Relations Act. So he had children in a society where it was kind of OK to be racist, and he had to protect us.”

On never wanting to become a writer

“I just didn’t think something like that was possible,” Evaristo replies when asked why she didn’t pursue writing despite having a love for books. “When you come from a working-class background, it’s not an option, is it? 

“Unless you get to know somebody or you have a teacher at school who presents it as an option. I didn’t know any writers and as a young child thinking about careers (which I wasn’t doing anyway), you’re just thinking ‘How do you earn a living’? And writing is just not in the upper minds of children who are not in that kind of culture.” 

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo.
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo.

On spending a decade living in a “Black womanist” community

Throughout the 80s, Evaristo identified as a lesbian who had a lot of “fun” but was also “very angry as a woman”.

“I used to go on lesbian marches and I used to go clubbing and I had lots of relationships,” she says, sounding very much like her character Amma in Girl, Woman, Other (who Evaristo says she identifies with the most). 

She also explains that she found the feminist movement “quite exclusionary” because it “didn’t really accommodate Black women,” adding: “I was very much part of this counter-cultural, Black feminist, say, or Black womanist community, where we were just nurturing each other, as well as fighting each other and falling out, of course.”

On the reality of winning the Booker Prize 2019 jointly with Margaret Atwood

Responding to the criticism Booker Prize faced for announcing two joint winners in 2019, Evaristo says: “I will take the Booker prize any way it comes, for a start. I’m just happy to have it. And also she (Atwood) is such a phenomenal woman.

“I get what other people see, people from outside who think ‘Well you’re the first Black woman [to win] you should have got it on your own’. And if I wasn’t the person who got it I might think that. 

“But in terms of my feelings, I don’t think I would feel very different, because it kind of feels like I have won it on my own. We both won it separately, we’re not sharing a trophy – we both won it.”

You can listen to Bernadine Evaristo’s Desert Island Discs epsiode on BBC Sounds.

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Images: Getty, Penguin

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Hollie Richardson

Hollie is a digital writer at Stylist.co.uk, mainly covering the daily news on women’s issues, politics, celebrities and entertainment. She also keeps an ear out for the best podcast episodes to share with readers. Oh, and don’t even get her started on Outlander…