The literary world has been buzzing with excitement for the past few months as Margaret Atwood, author of The Handmaid’s Tale, announced the sequel to the book: The Testaments. Hoards of people waited outside various Foyles, Waterstones and W.H Smiths in order to catch the first copies of Atwood’s newest novel. While The Handmaid’s Tale is a classic in American and Canadian literature, the eponymous HBO show launched in April of 2017 starring Elizabeth Moss catapulted it into the mainstream. This triggered a revival of appreciation for the book, which is presumably why this would be the right time to write and publish a sequel.
The Booker prize. A prestigious writing award for the best fiction book written and published in the UK, that Atwood won for The Blind Assassin in 2000. Nominees this year included the likes of Salmon Rushdie, Elif Shafak and Oyinkan Braithwaite. This year has been significantly different – two winners were awarded the prize: Bernadine Evaristo and Margaret Atwood. Of course, social media was in uproar (myself included), as Bernadine is the first black woman to win this award, but has had to share it with Atwood who has already won before. Atwood’s win felt more like fan service than a genuine award. It’s like how in Big Mouth Jay’s dog got more monologues as the seasons carried on, as us fans found him really funny. While I’m not denigrating Atwood’s literary prowess, it seems that this joint-win has reinforced hierarchy within the literary world, favouring old time favourites. Regardless, this has been a huge step towards getting black art out there; not just for the wider world to see but to serve as an inspiration to black people in the diaspora.
When I started reading black literature, specifically African literature, the experience was so much more enjoyable – authors used references that I understood. I could vividly imagine the scenarios, as they took place in settings that were familiar to me. The joy I experienced while reading Leye Adenle’s Easy Motion Tourist was not only due to the fantastic writing, but the fact that I could envision the protagonist speeding down Ozumba Mbadiwe Street in Lagos Island, Nigeria. The importance of Bernadine’s win is down to the fact that this feeling of recognition and enjoyment can now be spread to black people worldwide. Social media has helped a lot with the spread of black art – the fact we are able to share our reviews and thoughts on different things allows us all to experience that recognition that is so special. Yes, social media is important, but black literature is still barely in the school curriculum – when I found out I could have studied Alice Walker’s The Colour Purple instead of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights at A Level, I was left with a deep feeling of disappointment. The world-wide recognition that comes with winning such a renowned prize is invaluable.
In favour of not sounding too pessimistic, it’s Black History Month! A time to celebrate us. This month is “For Us, By Us” as Solange sings in “F.U.B.U” – for our heroes, our accomplishments and our diverse cultures. Bernadine Evaristo is my 2019 Booker Prize Winner. I am yet to read the winning book Girl, Woman, Other. Like many, I was not aware of Bernadine until the prize (see, this is what I’m talking about – awareness). While Girl, Woman, Other is an amalgamation of stories of different black women in Britain (think of it as a modern day Heart of Race) and seems right up my street, Mr Loverman has caught my attention. It’s the story of a closeted Antiguan gay man in his 70s, who is in love with his childhood friend Morris. Looking through summaries of her novels, I love the concentration on black experiences and black lives. According to The Guardian, Evaristo’s lifetime sales doubled five days after winning the Booker Prize. I hope that everyone reading this article can contribute to the doubling of her lifetime sales by reading her work! Evaristo is currently a Professor of Creative Writing at Brunel University in London, and has also published anthologies of poetry as well as literary criticism.
Some additional articles on Bernadine Evaristo: