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Life and Literature: Q&A with Writer Bernardine Evaristo, Women Published in 2014 to Read Now

By Cameron Steele

2015 is well under way but it feels like an appropriate time to reflect on one of my least beloved holidays. I’ll say it now: I am not a huge New Year’s Eve fan. I can attribute this to:

A)    a string of lackluster NYE moments (stuck in a broken-down boat in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay with my family, for example, or stuck in an Alabama newsroom covering the first homicide of 2012), and, more importantly,

B)    the reality that I’d rather be at home reading a good book when the ball drops than anything else.

On that note, I’ll admit I love the inundation of “Best Books” lists that circulate as the end of the year approaches. (Or, in the case of Coldfront, as the new year begins.) I peruse them all – from the hearty canon offered up by major media outlets to the more zany choices of fan-girl bloggers. This year, in an effort to postpone making any NYE plans, I reached out to a new favorite writer of mine, English-Nigerian writer Bernardine Evaristo, to see who she recommends reading. Evaristo published the critically acclaimed and wildly funny Mr. Loverman in 2014 – definitely one of the books I’ve told my friends to put on all of their “must-read” lists.

To go along with the Winter Issue’s “Women and the Global Imagination” theme, I asked Bernardine to focus on her favorite works by women writers.

Prairie Schooner: What are some of your favorite novels by women published this year that we won't (or maybe will) see on these lists?

Bernardine Evaristo: I don't get to read many books purely for pleasure as they're either teaching materials, books to review, or books to read for awards' judging. I do think Monique Roffey's novel, House of Ashes, about the Trinidadian 1970s coup is a fantastic read. 

PS:  Let's do this for poetry, too. Can you point us to new collections by female poets from around the world that are must-reads and why?

BE: Warsan Shire is a superb new poet from the UK via Somalia-Kenya. She won the Brunel University African Poetry Prize last year and was published in the African Poetry Book Fund's first box set of new poets.

Malika Booker is also an incredibly powerful poet from the Caribbean originally but a Londoner of many decades. Her first collection, Pepper Seed, was published by Peepal Tree Press this year. 

Also check out Patience Agbabi's fourth poetry collection Telling Tales, based on the Canterbury Tales, formally inventive and totally unique. Patience is British but of Nigerian parentage.

Finally, Karen McCarthy's debut poetry collection, An Aviary of Small Birds (Oxford/Carcanet) is a haunting, beautiful, often breathtaking sequence of poems about  her still born son.

PS: What would a year of reading only women writers look like? 

BE: My own reading tastes span both genders, I have to say, although I spent my twenties reading only female writers and I don't regret. They gave me the inspiration and courage to tell the stories I wanted to tell - to put the female experience centre stage. I was particularly drawn to African American women writers.