As part of the Manchester Literature Festival, Jackie Kay hosted an enlightening evening with Bernadine Evaristo based on the launch of her memoir ‘Manifesto’.
The socially distanced event at the HOME theater and explored the formative moments in Evaristo’s life, her relationship to creativity, and her experience of racial harassment growing up as a black woman.
Manifesto, a dissertation subtitled ‘On Never Giving Up’, was published on October 7 and is Evaristo’s ninth book.
Now 62, Evaristo made a sudden breakthrough at the age of 60 when she won the Booker Prize with her novel Girl, Woman, Other.
Her powerful and inspiring memoir describes how everything “changed overnight” after her victory after years of hard work with little success.
Despite this, Evaristo continues to take an ironic attitude towards his success, calling it “the attention I have craved for so long – I’m a middle child, remember!”
It was typical of the mood of the evening as discussions of serious matters were interspersed with moments of humor.
Reading aloud a passage from the memoir describing a “damp, soulless room,” Evaristo paused to reflect on what she had written.
“Actually,” she paused for a moment, “it was in Manchester.”
Jackie Kay, Scottish poet, playwright and novelist, is currently Professor of Creative Writing at Newcastle University.
The atmosphere in the theater was intimate and conversational, and it became clear that Kay and Evaristo were old friends as they reflected on their first reunions – even, much to the audience’s amusement, listing the clubs they were in. went in their youth.
The two women also discussed their shared experience of mixed race and working class growth.
Evaristo founded the very first theater for black women in the 1980s – at a time when no one was interested in black theater, especially that featuring women.
Evaristo has co-directed, wrote plays and performed for the theater, saying, “This is what shaped me in so many ways.”
Evaristo and Kay reflected on the casual and overt racism they suffered in the world of theater. you’re just the wrong color.
Evaristo explained how his encounters with racial harassment boosted his creativity and his vision for his works.
As a child, she had the impression of not fitting in because of the prejudices of the society.
She told the audience, “You couldn’t avoid racism whether you were mixed race or not.
“What I remember when I was a kid was just feeling embarrassed.”
She explained how Boris Johnson inscribed his name for Eton before he was born – a rite of passage to later become Prime Minister.
In contrast, Evaristo was sidelined in the ’80s, when hardly any black women were published.
“For many of us,” she said, “the systems are not there.”
Now she wants to use her platform to make a difference.
For Evaristo, creativity – ManifestoThe main theme of and the most constant strength of his life – was closely related to his experience of racial harassment and personal relationships.
Due to his feeling of exclusion as a child, Evaristo took refuge in reading, which helped stimulate his creativity.
As an adult, Evaristo experienced a controlling relationship with someone she refers to in Manifesto like “The Mental Dominatrix” – “TMD” for short – which posed a threat to his creativity.
‘TMD’ numbed her creative writing mind, as she read Evaristo’s poetry aloud for him and advised him against submitting a manuscript to editors.
As Manifesto explore, creativity as a force has shaped Evaristo’s life and writings: “Writing poetry has been how I connected to my deepest emotions.
“Poetry was the medium through which I processed my new knowledge and ideas.
“I have always chosen to be creative,” she said. “It didn’t make me much money until – (and here she winked sharply at her Booker Prize win) – extremely recently.”
Manifesto is now available for purchase at most bookstores.
Tickets to watch a digital recording of the event from November 1, 2021 are available for purchase here: https://www.manchesterliteraturefestival.co.uk/events/an-evening-with-bernardine-evaristo-39733
Image Credit Featured: Manchester Literature Festival / Chris Payne