Bernardine Evaristo fears publishers may lose interest in black authors

The Booker prize-winning author Bernardine Evaristo says she fears that publishers’ interest in black authors may be only a “trend or fashion” that could wane unless the business becomes more diverse.

Evaristo, who was the first black woman to win the literary prize for her novel Girl, Woman, 其他 在 2019, said that the Black Lives Matter movement and the murder of George Floyd in 2020 “really did shake the industry to the core” and had marked a turning point in previously “excluded” authors getting book deals.

She told an audience at the Hay festival: “This is a really good time for black writers to be published. Whether that will be the case in five or 10 年, we’ll have to see. What I’m interested in is for our literature to be embedded in the culture rather than being part of a trend or fashion.”

Evaristo considered it crucial that change should happen at the top: “You need to have [diversity among] the people making decisions in the publishing houses, and a wider range of writers, and writers of underrepresented communities, being published. That’s certainly happening at the moment and that’s a really positive thing.”

Evaristo said that the Booker had been a “powerful prize” to win because she “reached middle England [只要] after that”, despite a 40-year writing career.

“People do sometimes define [Girl, Woman, 其他] in terms of race but if you get beyond that you’ll see there are lots of other things. I think that probably makes it relatable in all kinds of ways to all kinds of readers, and because it had the Booker stamp of approval, people overcame their previous obstacles to reading my work and thought, I’ll give it a go.”

Evaristo told the festival audience that she had envisaged writing 1,000 black female characters in Girl, Woman, 其他: “What I wanted to do was put as many black British women into a single novel as possible because I was fed up with the fact we weren’t really present in British literature and I knew for us to be present we had to write those stories ourselves,“ 她说. But she decided that a novel on that scale would be “impossible”, and instead started writing the book with 100 人物. When she found herself devoting 30 pages to each, she cut the final cast down to the 12 who appear in the book.

Speaking about her recent memoir, Manifesto: On Never Giving Up, Evaristo said: “Even though my origin story growing up in Woolwich in the 60s and 70s with a black father and a white mother placed obstacles before me, I wanted to explore how that made me – as opposed to how that stopped me being the person I have become.”