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Bernardine Evaristo: Duchess of Sussex faced deep-rooted prejudices

The fact that Meghan is a ‘powerful woman’ got ‘some people’s backs up’, she said.

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Bernardine Evaristo (Booker Prizes)

Bernardine Evaristo (Booker Prizes)

Bernardine Evaristo (Booker Prizes)

Booker Prize winner Bernardine Evaristo says the Duchess of Sussex has been a victim of “deep-rooted prejudices”.

The bestselling Girl, Woman, Other author said a “myth” was constructed around Meghan.

Evaristo, who is chair of judges of this year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction, said Meghan was treated badly by parts of the media because “she’s a black woman” who was seen to have “overstepped the mark by entering the royal family”.

“I think there are so many issues around Meghan, I’m fully in support of her and Harry,” the writer told the PA news agency.

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The Duchess of Sussex (Simon Dawson/PA)

The Duchess of Sussex (Simon Dawson/PA)

The Duchess of Sussex (Simon Dawson/PA)

“I’m appalled at the way in which the media has treated her in particular.

“I am shocked and horrified at the sort of campaign against her, which is what it feels like in some of the papers and other parts of the media.”

She said: “There are two things going on – one is she’s a black woman who has overstepped the mark by entering the royal family.

“There are some deep-rooted prejudices around that.

“On the other hand, she’s a powerful woman, she’s a feminist, she’s a working woman, she’s a career woman, and she has a mind of her own.

“I think that has also got some people’s backs up.

“So, this whole myth has been constructed around her as some kind of awful person.

“But, actually, when you break it down, she’s just a great woman. From what I see, she’s a great woman, she hasn’t done anything to anybody.”

Evaristo, who jointly scooped the Booker Prize in 2019 with Margaret Atwood, said the royal family “handled” their response “well”.

“The problem with discussions around racism is that often you have people denying it exists,” she told PA.

“Any time somebody says something is racist, unless it’s some kind of brutal murder, they think, ‘Oh no, it doesn’t exist’.

“So it’s really important for her to use that platform, talking to Oprah, to discuss her experience of those issues in the circles she’s been moving in.”

I thought their response yesterday was very good. It was very cleverly done. I thought, 'OK you handled that well'Bernardine Evaristo on royal response

She said of Harry and Meghan’s interview with Oprah Winfrey: “I didn’t particularly find it shocking, but I think it was important for that to be aired.

“Of course, I thought it was very important for her to speak up and out, considering the amount of newsprint that has been published against her.”

She added of the royal family’s statement: “I thought their response yesterday was very good. It was very cleverly done. I thought, ‘OK, you handled that well’.

“They could have gone into complete denial mode. But actually there was love in that message and compassion.”

Her comments come after the Society Of Editors, which has almost 400 members in the UK, came under fire for saying it was “not acceptable” for Harry and Meghan to make claims of racism in the press “without providing any supporting evidence”.

Evaristo was speaking as the longlist for the Women’s Prize for Fiction, open to original fiction written in English by women from anywhere in the world, was announced.

The list features themes of family, motherhood, rural poverty and isolation, addiction, identity and belonging, race and class, grief and happiness coming-of-age and later life.

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Dawn French is on the longlist (PA Media on behalf of So TV)

Dawn French is on the longlist (PA Media on behalf of So TV)

Dawn French is on the longlist (PA Media on behalf of So TV)

This year’s novels are set around the world, from south London to Barbados and the list features six debut novels, previous winner Ali Smith and bestselling author Dawn French.

Evaristo said the 16 standout novels “represent a truly wide and varied range of fiction by women that reflects multiple perspectives, narrative styles and preoccupations”.

It is a “great list of books to read and there’s something for everybody,” she said.

The award launched in 1996 but is still needed today, she added.

“Statistics show that … women’s writing is much less likely to be reviewed than books by men and that’s one of the ways in which we’re discriminated against.

“We’re living in a patriarchal, sexist society. It’s important that we continue to celebrate and promote books by women within the context of living in this kind of society.”

She said of French being longlisted for her latest novel, Because Of You: “Dawn French is very much a public figure and a very famous individual but her book was selected for the quality of her storytelling. And that’s fair, we can’t exclude people who already have big reputations…

“I love that we have a very successful, bestselling author, but then we also have very literary authors.”

The Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist will be announced on April 28 and the winner on July 7. Details are at www.womensprizeforfiction.co.uk.

The longlist:

Brit Bennett, The Vanishing Half
Clare Chambers, Small Pleasures
Susanna Clarke, Piranesi
Amanda Craig, The Golden Rule
Naoise Dolan, Exciting Times
Avni Doshi, Burnt Sugar
Dawn French, Because Of You
Claire Fuller, Unsettled Ground
Yaa Gyasi, Transcendent Kingdom
Cherie Jones, How The One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House
Raven Leilani, Luster
Patricia Lockwood, No One Is Talking About This
Annabel Lyon, Consent
Kathleen McMahon, Nothing But Blue Sky
Torrey Peters, Detransition, Baby
Ali Smith, Summer

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