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Bernardine Evaristo
Critical Perspective

During the 1990s Bernardine Evaristo emerged as one of Britain's most talented, innovative and successful contemporary writers. Born in London and of mixed European and African parentage, Evaristo' s background has proved an important resource within her fictional writing. The self-consciously hybrid stance she takes in her work has invited comparison with the new generation of British-born, Black British writers like Andrea Levy, Jackie Kay and Hanif Kureishi who, in the words of Caryl Phillips, feel 'both of and not of' this country. Evaristo's writing is clearly energised by her own plural, diasporic heritage which marks her as both a British and a post-colonial writer. For Evaristo to be 'Black' and 'British' is not a contradiction. Her narratives raise crucial questions around what it means to be 'here', producing post-national landscapes in which Britain appears as the crossroads for a series of global movements and migrations. Her fiction makes clear the fact that it is no longer, and more importantly never was, possible to return to a pure, white, Anglo-Saxon Britain prior to immigration.

If Evaristo's writing is notable for the extent to which it transgresses the boundaries of the nation, then it is just as remarkable for the extent to which it challenges the traditional boundaries of literary genre. Her early writing includes the play, 'Moving Through', which was performed at the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs and a collection of poetry, Island of Abraham (1994). However, her more recent work combines in striking and intricate ways the genres of drama, poetry and prose, collapsing the boundaries between them to create what might be described as novels-in-verse.

Lara (1997), her first verse novel was a critical success and reached a number of short lists for literary prizes, winning the EMMA Best Novel Award in 1999. Blending lyrical poetry and fictional prose, fact and fantasy, history and myth, Evaristo's exuberant debut defies easy or singular definition. Set in the 1970s, it tells the story of a young girl growing up in the white London suburb of Woolwich. However, the novel is not as historically or geographically limited as such an account suggests. Lara's journey of self-discovery, as she becomes increasingly aware of her racial difference, is also a journey that takes her to three continents - Africa (Nigeria), Latin America (Brazil) and Europe (Turkey, France, Spain). Lara travels across nations and generations in narrating the life of its protagonist, whose ancestry is Nigerian, Brazilian, English and Irish. In handling this complex genealogy the narrative travels across time and space, transcending the confines of suburban life.

After winning an Arts Council Award in 2000, Evaristo went on to publish her most recent work, The Emperor's Babe (2001). Like Lara, this witty 'novel' evokes a range of disparate voices, histories and landscapes. Set in London in 211 AD, the text centres upon the life of Zuleika, the daughter of Sudanese migrants. The Emperor's Babe uses this life cleverly to recover the neglected early history of the Black experience in Britain. This past, which historians like Peter Fryer have traced back to Roman times, is brought to life in Evaristo's wonderfully inventive verse novel. The ancient Londinium evoked within its pages is no utopian space, but an uneven, divided landscape in which racial, gender and class conflict prevail. The Emperor's Babe does not simply excavate a hidden past that is 'over and done with', it gestures forward to the contemporary city and the current problems associated with urban life in Britain. Evaristo's stylish, early experimental fictions promise much. This is a writer who is pushing not just the boundaries of contemporary British writing, but of what it means to be 'British'.

James Procter, 2002
Bernardine Evaristo è nata e cresciuta a Londra da mamma inglese e padre nigeriano. Quarta di quattro figli, è cresciuta a Woolwich, South London, e ha studiato come attrice e ha lavorato in teatro. È autrice di due romanzi in versi acclamati dalla critica: "Lara" (1997 e 2009 nuova versione), che segue le radici di una famiglia mista inglese-nigeriana-brasiliana-irlandese per oltre 150 anni, tre continenti e sette generazioni; e "The Emperor's Babe" (2001), la pioneristica storia... wk-ao402-advise-g-20090122154559