Bernardine Evaristo’s book recommendations

Welcome to Durability, ELLE.com’s book column, where authors share their most memorable readings. Whether you are looking for a book that can comfort you, move you deeply or make you laugh, consider a recommendation from the authors of our series who, like you (since you are here), love books. Maybe one of their favorite titles will also become one of yours.

Manifesto: About never giving up

Bernardine Evaristo is not new to making history. She was the first to found a black women’s theater company, Theater of Black Women (1982 – 1988); the first black woman to win the Booker Prize (for 2019’s Girl, woman, other, a favorite among President Barack Obama) and heads a major drama school; and the first colored person to become president of the Royal Society of Literature. Now, after eight novels, comes her memoir called Manifesto (Grove Press), will be published on 18 January.

Daughter of a Nigerian welder and a white English schoolteacher, Evaristo was born and raised in south London with seven siblings. Youth Theater instilled in her a love of art, and she attended what is now known as the Rose Bruford College of Theater & Performance, where she serves as president.

The author and activist, professor of creative writing at Brunel University London, uses his platform to lift other voices. Her The Complete Works mentoring program and the Brunel International African Poetry Prize support colored poets. She curates Black Britain: Writing Black series, which republishes books by black authors who did not get their due.

She is a big supporter of confirmations, after writing down that she would one day win the Booker; would once be a nun; was awarded an OBE in 2020; has written for a Valentino campaign; once worked in the BBC World Service News Distribution Unit; wrote his first published piece as a 13-year-old in a school magazine about suffragettes; and has never met anyone with her name.

Like: Colorful clothes and Angelique Kidjo, artist Amber Roper, celebrity gossip, photographer Zanele Muholi, her Zenith E-camera bought as a 15-year-old, yoga / pilates / cycling, her 9-foot Ikea dining table used as a desk, cheese and onion potato chips (made for a sandwich with tomato), and vodka nice. Dislikes: A conventional office job.

The book there:

… Kept me up way too late:

Misery by Stephen King. I like watching thrillers on screen, but in general I avoid them as a literary genre, but this one made me get hooked. I can not quite believe that a book could scare me, but it did, and therefore I had a hard time sleeping.

Mig made me cry uncontrollably:

Not completely unchecked though Shuggie Bath by Douglas Stuart made me cry towards the end. Such a bond between mother and son – a book full of love soaked in struggle.

… I recommend again and again:

Their eyes looked at God by Zora Neale Hurston. It’s a classic and everyone should read it. Hurston was far ahead of his time. Imagine her in today’s world – she would be the queen of social media.

… shaped my worldview:

Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde, which I first read in my twenties in the 80s. She was the bravest of scribes who wanted to share her knowledge on how to survive the system when the system is not designed to support you.

… I swear I’ll finish one day:

Ulysses by James Joyce. Which mighty book – probably best studied under academic guidance, but to be read for pleasure? Really? OK, it’s been a couple of decades since I last tried it and I’ll try it one day soon. I want, I want, I want.

… I read in one meeting, it was so good:

If a book is so good, I will spin it out as long as I can, and certainly more than once.

… Currently sitting on my bedside table:

Twelve Caesars: Images of Power from the Ancient World to the Modern by Mary Beard. I have been interested in power for a while: who has it, who does not, how to acquire it, and how to use it to the greater benefit.

… Made me laugh out loud:

The secret life of Baba Segi’s wives by Lola Shoneyin, about a polygamous family in Nigeria. The pompous husband, the patriarch, is completely undermined by his wives, even though he has no idea what’s going on behind his back. What not to like?

… I want to turn into a Netflix show:

Every novel I have written. No, seriously, I have to get it in.

… I last bought:

Patricia Highsmith: Her Diaries and Notebooks: 1941 – 1995 edited by Anna Von Planta. Highsmith is a fascinating figure and clearly problematic with some of her views. At one point, Highsmith’s editor referred to her as a “terrible human being.” This alone is reason enough to want to get into her mind.

… has the best title:

Horses make a landscape look more beautiful by Alice Walker, a collection of poems, and At Grand Central Station, I sat down and cried, a prose novel by Elizabeth Smart. Both titles are long but easy to remember.

… Should be on all colleges’ curriculum:

The disappearing half by Brit Bennett because she is a seductive, atmospheric storyteller who explores the taboo subject of shadowism through fair-skinned twin sisters, one of whom turns white and the other does not. And The joys of motherhood by Buchi Emecheta. The story of a woman’s life in Nigeria in the first half of the twentieth century.

… I have reread most:

Midsummer by Derek Walcott is a poetry book I return to again and again when I want to be inspired.

… everyone should read because:

Fiction of people outside their society, culture, country. Fiction takes us outside of ourselves and into the lives of people who are not like us. It is a good thing. It promotes empathy and understanding.

… I would like to have signed by the author:

Any novel by Charles Dickens. I think it will be worth a little now. I could sell it on eBay.

Bonus question: If I could live in any library or bookstore in the world, it would be:

The British Library-which all knowledge is contained.

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