In celebration of our 201st birthday today, we are excited to announce that Professor Bernardine Evaristo OBE FRSL is to be the new President of the organisation when Professor Dame Marina Warner FBA FRSL retires at the end of 2021.
Founded in 1820, the RSL acts as a voice for the value of literature, honouring and supporting emerging and established writers whilst creating a bridge between authors and audiences to engage as many people as possible with the breadth of UK literature. The President is a beacon for literary excellence in the UK, bringing the RSL’s communities of readers and writers together. In this role, Evaristo will act as an ambassador for the Society and its overall mission, the advancement of literature.
Professor Bernardine Evaristo OBE FRSL said: ‘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.’
Retiring President Professor Dame Marina Warner said: ‘Bernardine Evaristo is one of literature’s most passionate and effective advocates. 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.
Daljit Nagra, Chair of the RSL said: ‘We are so proud to have Bernardine 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, recognisably unique and essential.
Bernardine Evaristo was elected a Fellow of the RSL in 2004 and has been a pivotal part of a wide range of the Society’s programmes and committees, from chairing events to running workshops for young people. She served as Vice-Chair of the RSL’s governing Council, as Chair of its Programmes Committee (with oversight of public events, publications and outreach programmes) and most recently as Vice-President since November 2020. Evaristo is currently the Chair of the RSL’s Open Fellowship recruitment panel in its first year; she also took part in the 40 Under 40 Fellowship initiative as a panellist. In 2021, Evaristo was appointed a Sky Arts Ambassador and launched the Sky Arts RSL Writers Awards providing mentoring with RSL Fellows to emerging writers of colour.