Woolwich’s Booker Prize winner Bernadine Evaristo set for freedom of Greenwich

Bernadine Evaristo
Bernadine Evaristo grew up in Woolwich in the 1960s and 1970s

Booker Prize winning author Bernadine Evaristo is to be given the freedom of Greenwich borough, councillors are set to confirm next week.

Next Wednesday’s full council meeting is due to approve conferring the honour on the writer, who was brought up in Woolwich and went to Eltham Hill girls’ school before studying at Rose Bruford College in Sidcup and Goldsmiths College in New Cross. She is professor of creative writing at Brunel University in Uxbridge, and specialises in writing about the African diaspora.

Evaristo’s best-selling novel Girl, Woman, Other, which tracks the stories of 12 different people, won the Booker Prize in 2019, making her the first black woman and first black British woman to win the award in its 50-year history.

Two years ago she was appointed Woolwich laureate by the Greenwich and Docklands International Festival, and wrote about her upbringing in The Guardian. She described the Woolwich of the 1960s and 1970s as a “predominantly white, working-class garrison town on the outskirts of London… Today it’s an incredibly multicultural district on the verge of gentrification, boasting luxury high rises with spectacular riverside views.”

The freedom of the borough is the highest honour the council can bestow. Kevin Fewster, the former director of Royal Museums Greenwich, is also nominated for the honour, as is Barry Gray, whose campaigning helped save both Severndroog Castle and Woodlands Farm on Shooters Hill.

Mavis Best, who campaigned against the “sus” laws – used by police to target ethnic minorities – in the 1970s and was a Labour councillor for four years from 1998, is in line to become an honorary alderwoman.

Allan MacCarthy, who spent 20 years as a Labour councillor in two spells from 1978 to 1986 and 1996 to 2018, is also set to become an honorary alderman. A councillor in Charlton and Kidbrooke, he was mayor in 2009.

Aldermen used to be co-opted onto councils rather than elected by the public; the position was abolished in London in 1978. The position is now given as an honorary one – MacCarthy’s award will bring his council career full circle, as he first entered the council in 1975 as an alderman.

The honours are due to be handed out at a special meeting of Greenwich Council on 8 September.

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