DATE: SATURDAY SEPTEMBER 26

TIME: 3:00 – 4:00 PM CST

 

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ABOUT BERNARDINE EVARISTO:

“Bernardine Evaristo uncovers characters lost to history and myth and with compassion, an original and brilliant voice, and an unparalleled craft—all tinged with humor—she restores them and thus us.” —Chris Abani

“Evaristo is known for narratives that weave through time and place with crackling originality.” —Vogue

“Evaristo has a gift for appraising the lives of her characters with sympathy and grace while gently skewering some of their pretensions.” —The New York Times

“Evaristo writes sensitively about how we raise children, how we pursue careers, how we grieve, how we love…. She captures the shared experience that make us members of the human family.” —Financial Times

Bernardine Evaristo is the author of the 2019 Booker Prize-winning novel Girl, Woman, Other. Her numerous other works span the genres of fiction, verse fiction, short fiction, poetry, essays, literary criticism, and radio and theatre drama. Other fiction titles include Mr. Loverman, a novel about a closet gay septuagenarian Antiguan-Londoner which explodes cultural myths and fallacies and shows the extent of what can happen when people fear the consequences of being true to themselves; Blonde Roots, a prose novel in which Africans enslave Europeans; and Lara, a semi-autobiographical verse novel of a mixed raced daughter of an Englishwoman and a Nigerian man. In all of her work, Evaristo’s writing is celebrated for its experimentation, daring, subversion, and challenging the myths of Afro-diasporic identities and histories. She describes her writing style as a fusion: “As a writer of fictions I like to mix things up temporally, spatially and stylistically—to cross the borders of genre, race, culture, gender, history, and sexuality.” The Booker Judges citation praises Girl, Woman, Other for this fusion, saying “The language wraps the reader by force, with the quality of oral traditions and poetry. This is a novel that deserves to be read aloud and to be performed and celebrated in all kinds of media.”

In Girl, Woman, Other Evaristo offers a magnificent portrayal of the intersections of identity and a moving and hopeful story of an interconnected group of black British women that paints a vivid portrait of the state of contemporary Britain and looks back to the legacy of Britain’s colonial history in Africa and the Caribbean. “This masterful novel is a choral love song to black womanhood.”, wrote Elle magazine, while The Washington Post proclaimed, “Girl, Woman, Other as “A breathtaking symphony of black women’s voices, a clear-eyed survey of contemporary challenges that’s nevertheless wonderfully life-affirming.” Evaristo won the Booker Prize alongside Margaret Atwood, to which the Washington Post also remarked, “Girl, Woman, Other received half a Booker Prize, but it deserves all the glory.”

Evaristo’s Afro-diasporic interests have led her to writing books that connect ancient and modern history with our contemporary society. She writes, “One of my aims as a writer is to explore the hidden narratives of the African diaspora, to play with ideas, conjur up original and innovative fiction and forms, and to subvert expectations and assumptions. Writing is an adventure, a journey into the unknown, and I enjoy liberating myself from the shackles of convention.” Addressing the themes and style of her other novels, she expands: “In Blonde Roots and The Emperor’s Babe I employ lashings of anachronisms to create worlds with shifting time frames that explore the relationship between the past and the present. In Lara I created multiple, inter-generational, inter-racial and inter-continental voices that examine the multicultural roots of the eponymous, mixed-race Lara. In Soul Tourists the past is revisited through ghosts of colour based on real characters in European history.”

Evaristo has edited several publications and her literary criticism appears in national newspapers and magazines including The Guardian, The New York Times Literary Supplement, The New York Observer, The New York Times, The Independent, and The New Statesman. Her books have been a “Notable Book of the Year” thirteen times in British newspapers. The Emperor’s Babe was a London Times Book of the Decade. Her books have been translated into several languages including Czech, Finnish, Hungarian, Italian & Mandarin.

In the genre of radio drama, in 2015 she wrote and presented a two-part BBC Radio 4 documentary called Fiery Inspiration: Amiri Baraka and the Black Arts Movement. In 2013, her verse novel The Emperor’s Babe was adapted into a BBC Radio 4 play, and in 2012, her novella Hello Mum was adapted as a BBC Radio 4 play.

A staunch and longstanding activist and advocate for the inclusion of artists and writers of color, Evaristo has initiated several successful schemes to ensure increased representation in the creative industries. Evaristo was born the fourth of eight children, in Woolwich, south east London, to an English mother (of English, Irish and German heritage) and a Nigerian father (of Nigerian and Brazilian heritage). Her father was a welder and local labor councilor; her mother was a schoolteacher. She spent her teenage years at Greenwich Young People’s Theatre, which was where she first became involved in the arts. In 2019, Evaristo served as the inaugural Woolwich Laureate, appointed by the Greenwich & Docklands International Festival.

Among her many honors, Evaristo was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature (2004), a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (2006), a Fellow of the English Association (2017), and a Fellow of Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance (2018). She joined the governing Council of the Royal Society of Literature in 2016 and became Vice Chair in 2017.

Evaristo lives in London with her husband, where she is Professor of Creative Writing at Brunel University London.

ABOUT TERRANCE HAYES

“Terrance Hayes is a poet who reflects on race, gender, and family in works marked by formal dexterity and a reverence for history and the artistry of crafting verse. Employing an almost improvisational approach to writing, Hayes conjoins fluid, often humorous wordplay with references to popular culture both past and present in his subversion of canonical poetic forms.” —MacArthur Foundation 

“First you’ll marvel at his skill, his near-perfect pitch, his disarming humor, his brilliant turns of phrase. Then you’ll notice the grace, the tenderness, the unblinking truth-telling just beneath his lines, the open and generous way he takes in our world.” —Cornelius Eady

One of the most compelling voices in American poetry, Terrance Hayes is the author of six books of poetry; American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassins (2018), a finalist for the 2018 National Book Award in Poetry; How to Be Drawn (2015), longlisted for the 2015 National Book Award in Poetry; Lighthead (2010), winner of the 2010 National Book Award in Poetry; Wind in a Box, winner of a Pushcart Prize; Hip Logic, winner of the National Poetry Series, a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award, and runner-up for the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets; and Muscular Music, winner of both the Whiting Writers Award and the Kate Tufts Discovery Award. He is also the author of the short story collection To Float In The Space Between: Drawings and Essays in Conversation with Etheridge Knight (2018), which won the 2019 Etheridge Knight Criticism Collection award from The Poetry Foundation. He has been a recipient of many other honors and awards, including a 2014 MacArthur Foundation Genius Award, two Pushcart selections, eight Best American Poetry selections, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship and the Guggenheim Foundation. His poems have appeared in literary journals and magazines including The New Yorker, Poetry, The American Poetry Review, Ploughshares, Fence, The Kenyon Review, Jubilat, Harvard Review, and Poetry. His poetry has also been featured on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.

Lighthead, his most innovative collection, investigates how we construct experience, presenting “the light-headedness of a mind trying to pull against gravity and time.” The citation for the National Book Award described it as a “dazzling mixture of wisdom and lyric innovation.” In Muscular Music, Hayes takes reader through a living library of cultural icons, from Shaft and Fat Albert to John Coltrane and Miles Davis. In Wind in a Box, he explores how identity is shaped by race, heritage, and spirituality, with the unifying motif being the struggle for freedom within containment. In Hip Logic, Hayes confronts racism, sexism, religion, family structure, and stereotypes with overwhelming imagery.

Hayes is an elegant and adventurous writer with disarming humor, grace, tenderness, and brilliant turns of phrase, very much interested in what it means to be an artist and a black man. He writes, “There are recurring explorations of identity and culture in my work and rather than deny my thematic obsessions, I work to change the forms in which I voice them. I aspire to a poetic style that resists style. In my newest work, I continue to be guided by my interests in people: in the ways community enriches the nuances of individuality; the ways individuality enriches the nuances of community.”

Professor of English at New York University, Hayes currently resides in New York City.

ABOUT CHRIS ABANI:

“Chris Abani might be the most courageous writer working right now. There is no subject matter he finds daunting, no challenge he fears. Aside from that, he writes like an angel. If you want to get at the molten heart of contemporary fiction, Abani is the starting point.”—Dave Eggers

“Abani is a force to be reckoned with, a world-class novelist and poet.”—Russell Banks

“Abani ranks among our most incendiary and emotionally devastating and important writers.” —Miami Herald

Chris Abani is an acclaimed novelist, poet, essayist, screenwriter, and playwright. Born in Nigeria to an Igbo father and English mother, he grew up in Afikpo, Nigeria, received a BA in English from Imo State University, Nigeria, an MA in English, Gender, and Culture from Birkbeck College, University of London, and a PhD in Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Southern California. He has resided in the United States since 2001.

Abani’s fiction includes The Secret History of Las Vegas (Penguin 2014), nominated for the Hurston/Wright 2015 Legacy Award, Song For Night (2007), The Virgin of Flames (2007), Becoming Abigail (2006), GraceLand (2004), and Masters of the Board (1985). His poetry collections are Sanctificum (2010), There Are No Names for Red (2010), Feed Me The Sun – Collected Long Poems (2010), Hands Washing Water (2006), Dog Woman (2004), Daphne’s Lot (2003), and Kalakuta Republic (2001). Poet Kwame Dawes has noted that “Abani’s line has a sharp precision that turns a scream into a line of memorable lyric music without losing the emotion and force.”

Through his TED Talks, public speaking, and essays, Abani is known as an international voice on humanitarianism, art, ethics, and our shared political responsibility. His critical and personal essays have been featured in books on art and photography, as well as Witness, Parkett, The New York Times, O Magazine, and Bomb.

He is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, the PEN/Hemingway Award for Graceland, the PEN Beyond the Margins Award, the Hurston Wright Award, and a Lannan Literary Fellowship, among many honors. His work has been translated into French, Italian, Spanish, German, Swedish, Romanian, Hebrew, Macedonian, Ukrainian, Portuguese, Dutch, Bosnian, and Serbian.

Abani’s many research interests include African Poetics, World Literature, 20th Century Anglophone Literature, African Presences in Medieval and Renaissance Culture, The Living Architecture of Cities, West African Music, Postcolonial and Transnational Theory, Robotics and Consciousness, Yoruba and Igbo Philosophy, and Religion.

Abani is currently a Board of Trustees Professor of English at Northwestern University. He lives in Chicago.

The Urbana Free Library Foundation was established in 1997 as a non-profit organization managed by a volunteer Board of Directors.  Following the completion of a successful capital campaign and expansion of the Library in 2005, the Foundation continues to advocate and promote support of the Library to benefit the community, meet the emerging needs of library users, and plan for future expansion.