Bernadine Evaristo has been announced as the next president of the Royal Society of Literature. The Booker Prize-winning author—and founder of the Brunel International African Poetry Prize—will take over from Marina Warner when she retires at the end of 2021. Evaristo will be the second woman to hold the position.
Founded in 1820, the R.S.L. champions the work of emerging and establishing writers, helping to keep literature in the public consciousness in the U.K. In its 201 years, the organization has served as a bridge between authors and audiences.
“I am deeply honoured to take on the role of the new President of the Royal Society of Literature,” Evaristo said in a statement. “Although founded two hundred years ago, the Society is boldly embracing the twenty-first century as a great champion of the possibilities of a more egalitarian culture for literature.”
Storytelling, she said, is “embedded in our DNA as human beings—it is sewn into the narrative arc of our lives. It is in our relationships, desires and conflicts, and it is the prism through which we explore and understand ourselves and the world in which we live. Literature is not a luxury, but essential to our civilization.”
She continued. “I am so proud, therefore, to be the figurehead of such an august and robust literature organization that is so actively and urgently committed to being inclusive of the widest range of outstanding writers from every demographic and geographical location in Britain, and to reaching marginalized communities through literature projects, including young people in schools to some of Britain’s leading writers who visit, teach and discuss their work with them. I look forward to the next four years as the figurehead of such a wonderfully impressive organization.”
The chairman of the R.S.L., Dajlit Nagra, praised Evaristo’s work. “We are so proud to have Bernadine Evaristo as our President. She is a seminal writer. She is a trailblazer. As a writer she speaks with striking originality about under-represented voices, as an advocate she has championed neglected authors, and as a campaigner she has given voice to the value of literature. Across all media, her voice rings out in passionate open-mindedness, recognizably unique and essential.”
Evaristo has served in different capacities within the R.S.L. In 2004 she was elected a Fellow of the Society and contributed towards its programmes, especially in its workshops for young people. She became the Vice-Chair of its governing council, and later Vice-President. She was a panelist for the 40 Under 40 Fellowship initiative and currently chairs the R.S.L.’s Open Fellowship recruitment panel in its first year.
“Bernadine Evaristo is one of literature’s most passionate and effective advocates,” said retiring president Marina Warner. “She is a garlanded writer of brilliant inventiveness and long been a leading inspiration in the vision of the RSL. In the lingering aftermath of the pandemic, her vivid, strong spirit, experience and dedication will bring fresh dynamism and energy to all our plans and activities.”
This year, Evaristo released a memoir Manifesto, detailing her long journey to success.