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Bernardine Evaristo receives honorary Queen Mary degree

Celebrated author Bernardine Evaristo collected an honorary doctorate from Queen Mary University of London today (Friday 29 July 2022) as part of summer graduation ceremonies at the historic People’s Palace in Mile End.

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Dr Bernardine Evaristo OBE is the author of ten internationally acclaimed books with a focus on the African diaspora. Besides her 2019 Booker Prize winner ‘Girl, Woman, Other’, her writing spans a range of genres, including verse fiction, fiction, non-fiction, as well as theatre and radio drama. She is also a well-known champion for inclusion across education and the arts.

Queen Mary awarded Bernardine a Doctor of Letters (DLitt) not only to recognise the outstanding distinction of her literary works, which have been taught in the University’s School of English and Drama for decades, but also for her activism and advocacy. The 63-year-old has been a leading voice calling for social justice and affecting structural change across the creative arts and education world, particularly regarding diversity at all levels of society and the inclusion of writers of colour.

Dr Evaristo has long been a supporter of and contributor to Wasafiri, the magazine of contemporary international writing based in Queen Mary’s School of English and Drama. In 2010 she co-edited a special Black British issue, ‘Beyond Definition’, with poet Karen McCarthy Woolf.

Wasafiri founding editor and Queen Mary’s Professor of Modern and Contemporary Literatures, Susheila Nasta, said: “A staunch activist and advocate for the inclusion of artists and writers of colour, Bernardine is a model of inspiration for our students, whose writing has long engaged and moved those in our School of English and Drama.

“Throughout her career, she has always been generous in mentoring and supporting writers and professionals at whatever stage in their work – but Bernardine’s major contribution has been her determined resolve to continue to challenge inequalities and achieve structural and positive change for writers and especially writers of colour across the arts and publishing sectors.”

As well as this new DLitt degree, Dr Evaristo has received many distinguished honours. The University’s patron, Queen Elizabeth II, awarded her an OBE in 2020 following her MBE in 2009. Last year, The Bookseller named Dr Evaristo their ‘Person of the Year’. She was also voted one of 100 Great Black Britons in 2020, and made the Black Powerlist 100 in 2021 and 2022.

In 2019, Dr Evaristo became the inaugural Woolwich Laureate at Greenwich and Docklands International Festival. Other honours include Fellowships at the Royal Society of Arts, the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, the English Association and St Anne’s College Oxford. In 2021 she was appointed President of the Rose Bruford College of Theatre & Performance, and in 2022 she became President of the Royal Society of Literature – the first Black woman to hold this role.

Books include ‘Feminism’ (2021), a survey of the representation of women of colour in British art; ‘Manifesto’ (2021), a memoir; ‘Mr Loverman’ (2014), a novel about a closet gay Antiguan-London man; ‘Hello Mum’ (2010), a novella in the voice of a teenage boy; ‘Lara’ (2009), a verse novel based on her family history spanning England, Nigeria, Ireland, Germany and Brazil; ‘Blonde Roots’ (2008), a prose novel in which Africans enslave Europeans; ‘Soul Tourists’ (2005), a novel-with-verse about contemporary and historical Europe; and ‘The Emperor’s Babe’ (2001), a verse novel set in Roman London. These have been translated into more than 40 languages including Czech, Finnish, Hungarian, Italian and Mandarin.

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