DIANA EVANS (London, UK, 1972)
Patricia Bastida Rodríguez (Universitat de les Illes Balears)
The daughter of an English father and a Nigerian mother, Diana Evans grew up in a semi-detached house in northwest London with her parents and her five sisters, one of them her twin, though she also spent part of her childhood in Lagos, Nigeria. The fact of being a twin has endowed her with a special sensitivity to identity issues and twinship, a topic which is explored in some of her writings and particularly in her first novel. She studied Media Studies at the University of Sussex and for some time she was a dancer in the Brighton troupe Mashango. She soon became a journalist, contributing human-interest features and art criticism to different magazines, journals and newspapers in the UK such as Marie Claire, The Independent, The Observer, The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, The Source, Pride Magazine, Time Out, Stage or Harper’s Bazaar. She has also published interviews to celebrities such as Maya Angelou and Mariah Carey and worked as an editor for Pride Maganize and the literary journal Calabash.
Evans received an MA in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia and after that she focused on finishing her first novel, 26a (London, Chatto & Windus), which was finally published in 2005. This novel has a deeply autobiographical content as it explores in a fictional way her relationship with her twin sister, Paula, who committed suicide in 1998 and to whom the book is dedicated. 26a received wide critical acclaim – it has been translated into more than ten languages and is a popular book among reading groups– and won the Betty Trask Award as well as the inaugural Orange Award for New Writers. It was also nominated for The Guardian First Book Award and shortlisted for the Whitbread First Novel of the Year Award and the Commonwealth Best First Book.
The novel portrays the experiences of British-Nigerian twins Georgia and Bessie, who have created their own space in their room, the loft in their London house which they call “26a”. As they grow up, the family’s three-year stay in Nigeria brings about their consciousness of their separate identities when Georgia is sexually abused one night. Back in Britain, adolescence and early adulthood separates them even more and Georgia ends up with serious depression and obsessed with a Yoruba myth about a twin who dies and survives inside her sister. With a highly imaginative, engaging narrative full of magical elements and references to Nigerian folklore, the novel culminates in the sad ending of Georgia’s suicide and Bessie’s final goodbye to her after a period of having her sister inside her body. The exploration of dualities and twoness stands at the core of the book, as the author herself has stated in several interviews.
Evans’s second novel, The Wonder (London, Chatto & Windus, 2009), has a different nature, as it explores one of her vocations, the world of dancing – her profession for a period in her life – through a less autobiographical plot. Although this work did not have so much critical repercussion as her debut novel, it offers an interesting portrayal of London’s recent past and a reflection on the search for one’s roots embodied in young Lucas’s attempt to find information about his father, talented Jamaican dancer Antoney Matheus, who founded a famous dance company in the 1960s and later disappeared. Despite his sister’s opposition, Lucas finally reconstructs his father’s history with the help of an eccentric dance critic and a former dancer at the company, only to discover that Antoney ended up frustrated after a number of bad performances and in a Caribbean psychiatric hospital. As in 26a, Africa is present in The Wonder through the rhythms and dance steps of its folklore, which Antoney uses and experiments with in his choreographies. The vivid descriptions of the frequent dancing scenes included in the novel powerfully evoke the feelings and sensations felt by one who really knows what this vocation is about, a task Diana Evans carries out to perfection.
Apart from these two novels, Evans has also published short stories in several anthologies. Among them we can highlight “Journey Home”, which appeared in IC3: The Penguin Book of New Black Writing in Britain (London, Hamish Hamilton, 2000) and “The Beginning”, published in Kin. New Fiction by Black and Asian Women (London, Serpent’s Tail, 2003). She lives in London and devotes part of her time to teaching courses and workshops on journalism and creative writing. She stands today as one of the best-known emerging voices in diasporic writing in Britain and her contribution, despite her small literary output to date, has been praised for its originality in themes and the imaginative nature of her descriptions.
Official website: http://www.dianaommoevans.com
Evans, Diana 2005: “My Other Half. A Personal Essay on Twinness”. The Observer, 6 February 2005.
Evaristo, Bernardine 2005: “Bernardine Evaristo interviews Diana Evans”. Wasafiri, vol. 20, issue 45, pp. 31-35.