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Bernadine Evaristo’s new book explores what made her who she is, including how her feminism has solidified as she has grown older.
Black Lives Matter shook the publishing industry to the core, Bernadine Evaristo told the Hay Festival at the weekend, and has brought many inditiatives to change the industry both in terms of the writers who get published and the people behind the scenes. But there is a danger that things slip backwards if black literature does not become embedded in the culture rather than being just a trend.
This is certainly true of all attempts to push for greater equality and we know that the backlash and the pull back to ‘normality’ or the status quo is strong. Underlying culture change is a quiet revolution – a series of revolutions in fact. It can be aided by the occasional big shock, but it is what happens in between – what continues to happen on a daily basis – that matters.
Evaristo was speaking at an event on her new book, Manifesto: on never giving up, which is in part a memoir and in part a call to action. Evaristo has certainly never given up and has been writing for over 40 years, only recently gaining much greater prominence through winning the Booker Prize for her book Girl, Woman, Other. That has helped her reach a wider audience – into middle England.
It is through the depth of Evaristo’s experiences over her lifetime that feminism now “feels solid inside me”.
The Manifesto book is an exploration of what has brought her to this point – how the barriers she has faced, for instance, growing up as a mixed race child in Woolwich, have shaped her rather than how they have stopped her. She is interested in how what we go through in our lives turns us into the people we are. She calls it a sense of self acceptance rather than a victim mentality. Although she says she felt a lot of anger in her early adulthood, she believes that anger can burn a person out. Instead she believes in the power of positivity and empathy – for others and for herself – and that this can help channel any energy into something productive rather than destructive.
Evaristo has been very involved in community activism and in promoting Black writers. She is currently promoting a Penguin series to bring back overlooked Black writers from the past who were ahead of their time.
She also spoke about her feminism and how it had become deeper as she gets older. She said she has always had a strong sense of injustice and as a young woman would speak the rhetoric of feminism. However, she says she lacked a deeper understanding and connection to what it means. It is through the depth of her experiences over her lifetime that feminism now “feels solid inside me”.
This is certainly the case for many women. It is experience – experience after experience – that reveals how deeply embedded inequality is. Although not for Evaristo, having children and returning to the workplace can be a major one for many women, seeing how the workplace has been shaped for people who are not like you. The fact that we talk more openly about these issues, that there are more women in the workforce at all stages now which enables these conversations, means that our children also absorb them more, whether male or female. But knowing something and feeling it in your bones is a different kind of power. As Evaristo says it is something solid and unshakeable.