Every person’s life is the result of a variety of influences, from family life to careers and friendships that can change the choices they make or leave them relatively unchanged. For Bernardine Evaristo, both positive and negative life experiences led to her new outlook on life.
In Manifesto: Never Give UpEvaristo describes and assesses the importance of various influences on her life choices and how they led to a new recognition from her family and other people she has come to know over the years.
Evaristo won the Booker Prize for his 2019 bestselling novel Girl, Woman, Other, in addition to being a winner or finalist of prizes such as the Women’s Prize for Fiction. His books include poetry, verse fiction, essays, literary criticism and drama. She teaches creative writing at Brunel University London and was awarded the Order of the British Empire in 2020.
Understanding the role heritage plays in people’s lives is key to Evaristo’s memoirs. She begins her examination of how she got to where she is now by considering how her ancestors influenced her choices and responses to situations she encountered. Her book is divided into seven sections, with themes including legacy and family, people who have come and gone in her life, theater and community, language, education, transformation, activism and more.
As the daughter of an Irish mother and a Nigerian father living in Britain, Bernardine Evaristo has been a foreigner since birth. Her heritage and early family life had a profound influence on the direction she followed, including the contrasting parenting styles of her mother and father and the challenges of being black in Britain. These and other experiences shaped the author’s work, first in theater and later in writing.
Although his father communicated very little of his Nigerian heritage to his children, Evaristo grew up very aware of the challenges of being part of two very different races and communities. This mixture of cultures is reflected at the beginning of each chapter, carrying an issue translated into several languages including Old English, Irish, Portuguese and the language of his father, Yoruba.
Evaristo’s legacy played a big role in her work in theater, as she found ways to support her community through the arts. During this time, she went through a series of relationships that sometimes helped and sometimes hindered her personal and professional development. One relationship in particular was almost overwhelming, and in the end Evaristo had to break free from an overbearing personality.
Despite these experiences – or perhaps because of them – Evaristo was able to find her writing voice and gain an understanding of herself and the people around her. Over time, she gained a better appreciation of herself and the influences on her life.
The book ends with Evaristo’s personal manifesto for living, among other things, in society and transmitting knowledge to the next generation while recognizing and remembering the people who came before us.
manifesto is an engaging and accessible book for anyone interested in developing a writer’s voice and understanding the world. The author has encountered a variety of difficult and stressful situations, but the overall tone of the book is hopeful as it considers how far society has come – despite the work that remains to be done.
Susan Huebert is a writer and editor from Winnipeg.
Elmwood Community Correspondent
Susan Huebert is Community Correspondent for Elmwood
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