Podcasts, Recommendations

Bernardine Evaristo: ‘We needed to claim the space for ourselves’

In a very special live Bookshelfie episode of the Women’s Prize for Fiction Podcast, our 2021 Chair of judges Bernardine Evaristo sat down with guest host Pandora Sykes to share the five books by women that have shaped her life and impacted her remarkable career. In front of a live audience at our Bedford Square festival site, they discussed what Bernardine and her fellow judges were looking for in a winning book; how books and libraries have been part of her world since childhood; and, in discussing her forthcoming memoir Manifesto, how her creativity has been shaped through the course of her life.

Listen to the episode here >

Here are Bernardine’s choices:

The Bluest Eye

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‘This was my introduction to [Toni Morrison’s] work and, and growing up as I did in the 60s and 70s, there were no books by about black writers in Britain, so black women did not feature in the fiction of my country. And so when I read this book, even though it was set in America, and my my life is very different to the world that’s described in that book, I saw the story of a black girl. And it was just incredible to see that, it was an incredible validation.’

The Bone People

Winner of the Booker Prize in 1985, The Bone People is the story of Kerewin, a despairing part-Maori artist who is convinced…

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‘The Bone People was the first Booker Prize book that I read, because I hadn’t been interested in that prize up to that point, and then here was this woman who was part Maori, winning it with an experimental novel.

 

Every so often, I revisit it. It’s about a woman living a very isolated life in a lighthouse on the coast. And it’s about her relationship with a seven year old mute boy, and his father. They’re all very unusual characters, Kerewin is a very eccentric individual, she’s unlike any kind of fictional character I’d ever seen before. Everything about it was different, and that was what I was looking for with my writing and still is.’

The Joys of Motherhood

A powerful commentary on polygamy, patriarchy and women’s changing roles in urban Nigeria. First published in 1979 reprinted in Heinemann’s…

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‘When I read The Joys of Motherhood it was the first time I had read a book that had a character as I imagined my father’s mother to be. My father came to Britain in 1949, married my mother, and never saw his mother again. She died in 1967, and didn’t know anything about her. But I did know that she was an illiterate petty trader in Lagos… this book is how I imagined my grandmother lived, and so it’s very, very special to me.’

Sister Outsider

The woman’s place of power within each of us is neither white nor surface; it is dark, it is ancient,…

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‘Audre Lorde didn’t have a massive reach, I think until about until the #MeToo movement a few years ago, and then suddenly, a lot of people became very interested in her work. But she meant a lot to me when I was a young woman.

I was very much part of the second wave feminist movement, and there was so many silences in our lives, and here was this really powerful woman, a generation older than us, saying, speak up, say what you need to say.’

Their Eyes Were Watching God

When sixteen-year-old Janie is caught kissing shiftless Johnny Taylor, her grandmother swiftly marries her off to an old man with…

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‘Zora Neale Hurston was an incredible woman. She was way ahead of her time, a member of the Harlem Renaissance, very independent, a very productive writer, and an anthropologist. She really was a trailblazer in many ways. But then she died in poverty, and her books went out of print […] This is an incredibly feminist book, although she would never have obviously called herself feminists or suffragette or whatever. It’s the kind of book you could give to anybody and say, read this, and I would hope that they would love it – as much as many people have done.’

Listen to the episode in full here, and make sure you subscribe as our next episode features Katherine Ryan, interviewed live at this year’s Latitude Festival by Yomi Adegoke.

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