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When Bernardine Evaristo’s novel Girl, Woman, Other won the Booker Prize in 2019, many readers, and some critics, assumed it was Evaristo’s first book and that she had achieved overnight success. In fact, she had been writing fiction, poetry and plays for 40 years at that point, and her Booker-winning novel was her eighth book. In Manifesto: On Never Giving Up, Evaristo offers her own story.
Evaristo structures her memoir thematically rather than chronologically, in seven long sections covering topics such as family, romance, writing and activism. Born in 1959 to a Nigerian father and a white English mother, Evaristo grew up as one of eight children in a working-class suburb of London. Money was tight, and the family endured a spectrum of racist hostility, from rudeness and name-calling to bricks thrown through their home’s windows. The narrative balances Evaristo’s early hardships and obstacles (being poor and biracial in class-bound 1960s England) with the gifts and support (her parents’ political activism, her convent school education) that laid the groundwork for her midlife success.
In her 20s, Evaristo formed a theater company with other Black women and began to write plays while living hand to mouth in cheap rentals. She also spent those years in lesbian relationships, before beginning to date men again in her 30s. With candor and even some humor, she looks back on an early abusive relationship, nicknaming her ex The Mental Dominatrix, or TMD. It’s a good example of the way Evaristo can write about a heavy subject thoughtfully yet conversationally.
Throughout, Evaristo describes her development as a writer, from her first attempts at fiction to the aftermath of becoming a bestselling author at 60. “Writing became a room of my own; writing became my home,” she notes. Manifesto is not a self-help book, but Evaristo’s long, persistent journey to becoming a lauded novelist is inspiring, especially for any writer who’s struggled to get a story published. The book concludes with “Evaristo’s Manifesto,” nine tenets that guide her life. Here’s one: “Be wild, disobedient & daring with your creativity, take risks instead of following predictable routes; those who play it safe do not advance our culture or civilization.”
In Manifesto, Evaristo takes her own advice, producing a thoughtful, vivid, often funny work of nonfiction that refuses to play it safe.