NIGERIAN-British writer Bernadine Evaristo has been named the 2020 author of the year at this year’s British Book Awards becoming the first-ever black writer to win the category since the event was launched in 1990.
Also known as the Nibbies, the British Book Awards is organised by the UK’s book trade magazine, the Bookseller. Nibbies are literary awards for the best UK writers and their works and have had several owners, sponsors and previous names since being launched, including being known as the National Book Awards from 2010 to 2014.
Ms Evaristo, who was the joint winner of last year’s Booker Prize for her polyphonic novel, Girl, Woman, Other, also won the fiction category, winning the prize ahead of her fellow Booker winner Margaret Atwood, the renowned Canadian author of The Testaments. Last month, Ms Evaristo became the first black woman to top the fiction paperback charts in the UK, a development she described as surreal.
This was after a widespread criticism of the UK publishing industry, accused of having biases against black and Asian writers. However, given the backdrop of the Black Lives Matter movement, the industry has been forced to give works by black and minority ethnic (Bame) writers the same consideration as that of their white counterparts.
Ms Evaristo said: “I’ve been writing for a very long time and it’s incredibly gratifying to know that my work is finally reaching a wider readership. It’s also fantastic to see so many other books by writers of colour storming the charts.
“I’m pretty sure this is unprecedented. Of course, this has been triggered by the tragedy of George Floyd’s death and we should always remember that.”
Among other things, Ms Evaristo is a longstanding advocate for the inclusion of Bame writers and founded the Brunel University African Poetry Prize to help realise this dream. She is also a signatory to an open letter from a newly formed Black Writers’ Guild which is calling for sweeping change in the British publishing industry.
Ms Evaristo, 61, was born in Eltham in southeast London and christened Bernardine Anne Mobolaji Evaristo. She is the fourth of eight children born to her white English mother, who was a schoolteacher and her Nigerian father, who migrated to Britain in 1949 and became a welder and local Labour councillor.
Meanwhile, another Nigeria writer, Oyinkan Braithwaite, won crime and thriller book of the year for her thriller novel My Sister, the Serial Killer, which has received many nominations and won the Anthony Award for Best First Novel. It has been longlisted for the Booker Prize and was the second-highest best-selling title on the list as of July 2019, with 13,052 units sold.