British-Nigerian writer Bernardine Evaristo founded the prize in 2012. She is the award-winning author of eight books of fiction and verse fiction including Mr Loverman, Lara, The Emperor’s Babe and Blonde Roots. Her new novel, Girl, Woman, Other, was published by Hamish Hamilton/ Penguin Random House UK in May 2019 and Black Cat/ Grove Atlantic in November 2019. It won the Booker Prize 2019 and became a Sunday Times bestseller.
Bernardine is also a literary critic for the national newspapers, and an editor of anthologies and special magazine issues. She is Professor of Creative Writing at Brunel University London and Vice Chair of the Royal Society of Literature. She has judged and chaired many leading literary awards and in 2012 was Chair of both the Commonwealth Short Story Prize and The Caine Prize for African Fiction. She has won several awards and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2004, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in 2006, a Fellow of the English Association in 2017, and a Fellow of Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance in 2018. She was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List in 2009.
As a long time advocate for writers of colour, she initiated the Arts Council Free Verse report (2006) and The Complete Works mentoring scheme (2007-2017, led by Dr. Nathalie Teitler) to address the underrepresentation of Black and Asian poets in British poetry presses. Most of the former mentees are publishing full-length poetry collections with leading poetry publishers and have won or been nominated for many awards, including winning the prestigious Forward Prize for best first collection (Mona Arshi) and the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award and T.S. Eliot Prize (Sarah Howe).
In the 1980s Bernardine co-founded Britain’s first black women’s theatre company, Theatre of Black Women and in 1995 she co-founded Spread the Word, London’s premier writer development organisation.