Bernardine Evaristo

Bernardine Evaristo was revealed to be new President-elect of the Royal Society of Literature on November 30, 2021. The society also announced its new honours list which features Jamaica Kincaid, Alain Mabanckou, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, and Claudia Rankine.

The Royal Society of Literature is a society founded by King George IV, to “reward literary merit and excite literary talent” in 1820. The society has about 600 Fellows, elected from among the best writers in any genre currently at work. Additionally, Honorary Fellows are chosen from those who have made a significant contribution to the advancement of literature, including publishers, agents, librarians, booksellers or producers.

The new president of the society will be award winning author and academic Bernardine Evaristo who won the Booker Prize in 2019. She takes up the role when current leader Professor Dame Marina Warner retires at the end of 2021. She is the first Black woman to take the role.

Professor Bernardine Evaristo said of the announcement: ‘I am deeply honoured to take on the role of the new President of the Royal Society of Literature. 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 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 civilisation. I am so proud, therefore, to be the figurehead of such an august and robust literature organisation 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 marginalised communities through literature projects, including introducing 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 organisation.’

While the organisation was announcing its forthcoming leader, it also announced the writers who will be taking part in its International Writers programme that was announced last year. The programme is a new award recognising the contribution of writers across the globe to literature in English, and the power of literature to transcend borders to bring people together. A life-long honour, new writers will be invited to join the Royal Society of Literature’s International Writers each year forming an ever-expanding global community of authors.

Readers and writers were asked to recommend writers outside the UK for nomination. Daniel Hahn chaired a panel of Fellows and Honorary Fellows including Lisa Appignanesi, Syima Aslam, Bibi Bakare-Yusuf, Sophie Collins, Sasha Dugdale, Max Porter, Philippe Sands, Elif Shafak and Boyd Tonkin. The panel nominated the Royal Society of Literature’s International Writers, who were then appointed by Council. On the list of those they have honoured include the following writers of African descent;

  • Jamaica Kincaid
  • Alain Mabanckou,
  • Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o,
  • Claudia Rankine