‘We were a family under siege’: award-winning author Bernardine Evaristo speaks out at Manchester Literature Festival event

  • Bernardine Evaristo speaks out on winning the Booker Prize and opens up about her new Memoir Manifesto: On Never Giving Up
  • Manchester Literature Festival are hosting live events throughout October 
  • Digital events will run from the beginning of November 

Manchester Literature Festival hosted ‘An Evening with Bernardine Evaristo’ on Monday night, the first of many live events happening this month.

The sold out event was hosted by Jackie Kay at HOME, Manchester’s centre for contemporary theatre, film, art, and music, and was watched by a socially-distanced audience. 

Topics of conversation included growing up in the 1970s in Great Britain and Scotland amid racism, as well as both authors’ respective journeys in their shared profession and the challenges they faced.

Evaristo said: “I think there is a period in my life where I thought I didn’t suffer from racism, but of course I did.

We were a family under siege. There were bricks thrown through the window.”

As the conversation continued, it was revealed that Evaristo has a background in theatre as co-founder of the first theatre for black women in the 1980s which promoted young black women writers and actors – and was how she first met Jackie Kay. 

Speaking about her Memoir, Manifesto: On Never Giving Up, Evaristo said: “I never planned to write a memoir because I am a very private person, but winning the Booker [Prize] changed that.”

Manifesto is a book that is separated into multiple sections that explore her creative process, as well as her childhood and relationships.

Evaristo’s relationship with her father is heavily looked at in the book, as well as her grieving of his death.

Kay described the Memoir as “something extraordinary, [with something] uplifting and brave about it.”


Discussing winning the Booker Prize, she said: “It was serial and I don’t hide my huge enjoyment of gaining more readers and getting the attention of readers I wanted.

“But the thing about writing fiction is everyone thinks you’re writing about yourself. In ‘Girl, Woman, Other’, people think Dominique is based off of me.”

Bernardine Evaristo supports the Arts community in a number of ways, one of them being that she has initiated schemes to increase the representation in the creative industry through her role as curator for the Sky Arts RLS Writers Award as a Sky Arts ambassador for literature.

Currently the Booker Prize winner is also curating Black Britain Writing Back, which reintroduces lost or hard-to-find books by black writers who wrote about Black Britain and the diaspora across the twentieth century, for example The Fat Lady Sings by Jacqueline Roy, Bernard and the Cloth Monkey by Judith Byran, and Without Prejudice by Nicola Williams.

A separate event held by Manchester Literature Festival on the same day was a conversation with journalist and writer Anita Sethi about her debut book, I Belong Here: A Journey Along the Backbone of Britain, held at the Manchester Museum.

The book explores the importance of walking as an act of defiance and hope, the devastating effects of racism, bullying and PTSD, and the role nature and wildness can play in well-being.

Unlike last year, which featured 17 online events broadcoast on Crowdcast over a weekend, and included 70 writers and four specially commissioned films, this year the Manchester Literature Festival will be a mix of digital and live events due to covid restrictions easing.

The live events will be running from 9th-17th October, while the digital events will run from 1st-14th November.