Bernardine Evaristo addressing her audience in her Happiness Lecture talk
Bernardine Evaristo addressing her audience in her Happiness Lecture talk

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), Bernardine’s father was a welder and local Labour councillor; her mother was a schoolteacher.

She was educated at Eltham Hill Girls’ Grammar School, the Rose Bruford College of Speech & Drama, and Goldsmiths, University of London, where she earned her PhD (Creative Writing). She spent her teenage years at Greenwich Young People’s Theatre, which was where she first became involved in the arts.

It was such a treat to deliver the Happiness lecture this year, talking about something quite new for me, but finding a way to make it relevant to my creative and personal interests. The Great Hall is an outstanding venue for such an occasion and the audience was warm and welcoming.

Bernardine Evaristo
Bernardine Evaristo speaking to Creative writing students at the roundtable discussion
Bernardine Evaristo speaking to Creative Writing students at the roundtable discussion

Before the Happiness lecture took place, Bernardine met and talked with current creative writing students in the College of Arts and Law for a roundtable discussion.

It was a real pleasure to be invited to the discussion with Bernardine Evaristo with my fellow creative writing students. Bernardine was extremely friendly and funny; it was great to be able to ask questions about her novels, writing process and her career. Having studied and written a book review for 'Girl, Woman, Other' in my first year for a Creative Writing assignment, I enjoyed being able to hear about how the story came about, the origins of the character, and how she managed to write in various voices, and her advice to us for creating distinct characters was very useful. I will definitely take on all her advice and hearing about her success was truly inspiring.

Cara-Louise Scott, Creative writing student

The Baggs Memorial Lecture began in 1976. Thomas Baggs was an alumnus of the University of Birmingham who went on to become a teacher, journalist and a war correspondent for the Daily Mail before pursuing a successful career in advertising and publicity for the USA automobile industry. When he died in 1973 Thomas bequeathed a substantial sum to the University to provide for an annual public lecture on the theme of ‘Happiness - what it is and how it may be achieved by individuals as well as nations.’

Bernardine is such an inspirational figure, so it was amazing to hear her talk about her journey - both as a writer and an individual. Given the constant doom and gloom of the news cycle, it was also a rare thing to spend an evening just thinking about happiness - what it looks like to different people and above all how we might, even against the odds, achieve it. I came away buzzing!

Ruth Gilligan, Professor in Creative Writing

This lecture series has seen many distinguished speakers tackle the topic of happiness from their personal viewpoint including Yehudi Menuhin, David Attenborough, Peter Ustinov, Maureen Lipman, David Lodge, Adam Hart Davies, Robert Winston, Eve Pollard and Charles Hazelwood.

This year’s lecture is the first to be hosted by our new Vice-Chancellor Professor Adam Tickell.

We were delighted this year to welcome award-winning Bernardine Evaristo to speak at the Baggs Memorial lecture. Bernardine is a true polymath who writes both fiction, non-fiction, is a poet, journalist, and a dramatist. Students from our creative writing programme had the pleasure of meeting her before the lecture to discuss more about her inspiring work.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Adam Tickell

Bernardine has toured internationally this year from visiting Holland to Germany and then to the International Literature Festival in Dublin back in May.