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Blue
sky thinking

She’s best known for her Booker-winning novel but Bernardine Evaristo is returning to her drama school roots. She talks to Patricia Nicol about the future of theatre, finding fame 40 years into her career and her mixed feelings on her new OBE

'I want to be a role model,’ says Bernardine Evaristo emphatically. ‘And an inspiration. Because my background, it’s not, you know, a white background. It’s not upper-class; it’s not privileged; it’s not Oxbridge. I come from a large, working-class, mixed-race family growing up in suburbia. The things that have happened to my career this last year have been absolutely wonderful, but people shouldn’t forget that it’s been a very, very long journey.’

The 61-year-old winner of the 2019 Booker Prize sits at a 10-seat distance from me (it’s before the latest lockdown), in the front row of the theatre-in-the-round of Rose Bruford College. Evaristo has just begun a five-year term as president of the Kent drama school. There is a satisfying circularity to this alumna appointment. These days Evaristo thinks of herself, with occasional amusement, as part of the establishment: a professor of literature at Brunel University; an honorary fellow of St Anne’s College, Oxford; a vice-president of the Royal Society of Literature; an OBE recipient on the Queen’s 2020 birthday honours list.

MARQUES’ALMEIDA jacket, and GIAMBATTISTA VALLI trousers. AEYDE boots. Shirt, headband and earrings, Bernardine’s own

“I’m not interested in a status quo that is exclusionary... I’m there to represent people who I feel should become part of the narrative”

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Bernadine and Margaret Atwood

“Everything changed for me through winning the prize.... now more people pay attentioN”

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“Britain is a country that is systemically racist in lots of different ways, that has refused for a long time to examine that”

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