BLM resources: Bernardine Evaristo’s ‘Girl, Woman, Other’

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I picked up Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other just before lockdown, intrigued by the acclaim that the novel has amassed. I didn’t, however, expect for Evaristo’s writing to become as culturally relevant as the re-emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement has caused it to be. Though a work of fiction Girl, Woman, Other, is an expression of the Black female experience both as it has been, and how it could be.

Of English and Nigerian heritage, Evaristo is a professor of creative writing and an author of eight works, all of which centre in some way around race and the Black experience. 2019’s Girl, Woman, Other has accumulated worldwide critical acclaim and cemented Evaristo’s status as one of Britain’s most exciting contemporary authors.

Evaristo’s novel is never far from a reality that can easily be imagined, making the novel undeniably relevant.

The novel follows the lives of twelve women, all overlapping in some way, that congregate unknowingly in a National Theatre afterparty at the novel’s close. Most of them are Black or mixed race: Evaristo gives Britain’s minority groups active and accessible voices that have otherwise historically been denied or misshaped in literature. Her women find themselves in a range of contexts and industries, from theatre directors and city bankers to students and shop workers. With these lives of fiction, Evaristo’s novel is never far from a reality that can easily be imagined, making the novel undeniably relevant.

Evaristo adopts a narrative style that can almost be considered a stream of consciousness – no detail is left out, language is colloquial, and the tone is casual, but each word is deliberate, holds a purpose. At first seeming odd in a novel that is so explicitly about individual experience, the personal pronoun ‘I’ is absent outside of direct speech. There may be a method to this, though, for in avoiding attaching experience exclusively to her characters, Evaristo gives an idea of universality with the lives she depicts. The challenges and achievements of her characters, be they cis, trans, or non-binary, become those of every person: race or gender identity are no longer a means through which someone might find themselves restricted.

For me, it is the experience of Yazz that holds the greatest resonance. The youngest of Evaristo’s women, Yazz is born into Britain at its most diverse and raised in London, the geographical hub of Britain’s racial and cultural multiplicity. Despite this, Yazz recognises the disadvantages she faces as a Black woman, exhibiting that little has changed between the years of her youth and the emigration of Bummi from Nigeria or Winsome from the Caribbean, some decades before. Evaristo is thus able to upon social progress, or the lack thereof; minority groups are still marginalised, still without opportunities equal to those available to white populations. Yazz’s formidableness, however, provides a hope for the future of Black women; she wants to be a globally-read journalist writing a controversial column, critiquing society and politics – because it’s about time someone of her demographic is heard, and she is adamant that she’ll achieve this. 

Girl, Woman, Other is intersectional in its activism, showing gender, sexuality and class to be inextricably tied to studies of race.

In depicting the Black experience, Evaristo writes of more than race. Girl, Woman, Other is intersectional in its activism, showing gender, sexuality and class to be inextricably tied to studies of race. Furthermore, the novel is not only significant because of its thematic explorations, but also because of the racial barriers that it, and thus Evaristo, has broken. The novel won a series of accolades in 2019, none more significant than sharing the Booker Prize alongside Margaret Atwood: Evaristo is the only Black woman to receive the title in the fifty years it has been awarded.

Girl, Woman, Other is therefore important in its approach to race. It explains and evidences that the Black female experience doesn’t fit a single template, but is new and individual for each woman. Evaristo’s novel is polyphonic and presents a cacophony of voices, but it at no point suggests that one voice is more important or significant than another: all lives and experiences are valid and respected, an attitude that urgently needs to be applied to our contemporary society.

Photograph: sstoppo via pixabay

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