‘Books inspired my literary imagination’

Award-winning British-Nigerian author, Bernardine Evaristo, has continued to dazzle the literary world, due to her creativity and dexterity.

The legendary writer, who won the Booker prize in 2019 for Girl, Woman, Other, an award she shared with Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments, rocked the world, is the first black British person and the first black woman to win it.

The enigmatic novelist, was born in South East London in 1959, to a Nigerian father and a white British mother.
It is interesting that she also had some failures in her early years.

Evaristo failed two of her A-levels and did not receive any advance money for her first two books, according to her.

Cheerily, she triumphed over these draw backs, discriminations and other social constraints, through her literary adventure.
Her themes and works, which significantly focus on overcoming the barriers of racism and misogyny, has indisputably, shot her to limelight.

In this book review, ADEZE OJUKWU, highlights some of the books that shaped her classical writings and artistry.
Excerpts below:

‘In reality, I can say that books have inspired my imagination my whole life.
However it was only when I started to read literature, featuring Black women, that I felt that the world of stories could be mine.
This was in my late teens and early twenties.

Up to that point, every book I had ever read, whether through the school curriculum or what was available in the local library, was about white people, other than The Jungle Book.

Once I began to discover literature by and about the lives of the global majority, I felt validated, especially when those books featured Black women. No longer was I invisible, but visible, even if the stories were set in different eras, cultures and countries to my own.

The Colour Purple by Alice Walker

A groundbreaking novel, with its portrayal of a girl, Celie, growing up in the American Deep South.

The book is told through her letters to God, in which we discover her abusive father impregnates her. In 1982, subjects of child abuse and incest were hidden away.

This was one of the first books to bring them out into the light. The novel is harrowing, but also beautiful and far from bleak, as Celie escapes her childhood.

It showed me the importance of writing about difficult subjects.

The Joys of Motherhood by Buchi Emecheta

This is the only book I’ve read that gives me insight into my father’s Nigerian mother, whom I never met.

Set in Nigeria in the first half of the 20th century, it follows Nnu Ego, whose preordained role in life is to be married off by her father and give birth to sons.
Her choices are limited, but she makes the best of the fate handed to her.

Like my grandmother, Nnu Ego is an illiterate petty trader living in Lagos and loses her children, some of whom go overseas. It is a fascinating, thought-provoking read.

Beloved by Toni Morrison

I first discovered the works of the late Nobel laureate Toni Morrison in my early 20s, and have since read all her books, fiction and non-fiction.

Her greatest work is Beloved, which is based on the true story of a woman who escaped slavery and was hunted down by slave catchers.

She then killed her child in order to spare her growing up in slavery.
Years later, the woman is haunted by a ghost she imagines is the dead child.

The novel is thematically epic as the story unravels like finely spun yarn.

The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives by Lola Shoneyin

One of the funniest and most entertaining books I’ve read. Set in Nigeria, it centres on the three wives of the polygamous patriarch Baba Segi, who live with him and their seven children.

Baba Segi is presented as quite buffoonish, a figure of fun who is not respected by his wives, although they can’t show insubordination.

He’s supposed to be the top dog in this three-way marriage, but the women subvert this at every turn and have secrets of their own.

Come Let Us Sing Anyway by Leone Ross

It is a stunning collection of short stories, some of which dabble in magic realism.

Each of the 23 stories is a gem, digging deep into the psyche of the protagonist, such as a lonely woman who follows an attractive stranger home, or a model who ends up self-immolating on a catwalk.

Spanning Britain and Jamaica, the most fabulous stories stretch the limits of the imagination, such as one about disembodied hymens. Ross is a writer unlike any other.

For coloured girls who have considered suicide/ When the rainbow is enuf by Ntozake Shange

This is the text to Shange’s production of the same name.

Seven African-American women tell us about their lives through exquisite poetry. When staged, the actors speak their poetic monologues during the performance, yet the book works powerfully as poetry in its own right.

It was a major influence on my early theatre writing and showed me that I could eschew tradition.

•Ojukwu, a Hubert Humphrey Fellow, is a journalist and advocate of Sustainable Development Goals(SDGs). Kindly send feedback to [email protected]

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