Books that changed my life: Bernardine Evaristo

Jessica Lone Summers

Recent winner of the 2019 Man Booker prize, Bernardine Evaristo, chats to us about her three most life-changing books

The Kon-Tiki Expedition by Thor Heyerdahl

the kon tiki expedition

I read this when I was about 14. It’s by a Norwegian explorer who went on an expedition from Peru to Polynesia in a balsa raft to prove that Peruvians had sailed to Polynesia deep in history. I was really inspired by it. I grew up in Woolwich—which has suddenly become gentrified but at the time was a very boring town—and we went nowhere. My father was Nigerian and my mother English but I hadn’t been to Nigeria or anything like that. So this book exploded my mind open in terms of imagining a world beyond the world I was growing up in.

 

For Coloured Girls Who Have Considered Suicide by Ntozake Shange

for coloured girld who have considered suicide when the rainbow

The author was an African-American writer, poet and dramatist who wrote this book in the Seventies. It was a work of poetry that was meant to be performed partly through dance. It was ground-breaking because it was very unusual to have seven black women on stage in London’s West End. I was a student when I saw it, and when I left drama school I formed a company with two others called The Theatre of Black Women. I don’t know that we’d have done that if we hadn’t seen this production.

 

Midsummer by Derek Walcott

I’ve loved poetry all my life, but when I first read Walcott’s work I felt I’d experienced poetry at its highest level. Even though I’m not Caribbean or male, his poetry spoke to me and I fell in love with his use of language. He was very imaginative and he created the most extraordinary images out of the most ordinary things. His writing is profound and passionate, evocative, atmospheric and very descriptive. He wrote this series of sonnets 3while spending a summer in Trinidad and the book defies categorisation. I wanted to be able to produce work that was as magical and chemical as his.

 

Award-winning writer Bernardine Evaristo is the author of eight books of fiction and poetry. Her new novel, Girl, Woman, Other is out now, published by Hamish Hamilton


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