Diana Evans Q&A: “The worthiest heroism is grossly undervalued”

The novelist on what she's missing in lockdown, Angela Davis and Arundhati Roy, and our everyday heroes.

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Diana Evans was born in London in 1972 and spent part of her childhood in Lagos, Nigeria. Her third novel, “Ordinary People”, was shortlisted for the 2019 Women’s Prize.

What’s your earliest memory?

I have an impressionistic memory from age ten: my father wearing a beige jacket in a holiday cottage in Brittany, sun filtering into the hallway, feeling a little uneasy.

Who are your heroes?

My sisters and closest friends, who give me guidance and comfort. Alice Walker, who was my late-teen literary darling, and more recently, James Baldwin. Currently, anyone who works in a supermarket, a hospital, a care home, on transport or elsewhere on the frontline. The worthiest heroism is ordinary and grossly undervalued.

What book last changed your thinking?

Raymond Antrobus’s poetry collection The Perseverance made me aware of the subconscious pomposity of hearing, and reminded me of the importance of voice and visibility for the marginalised.

What would be your Mastermind specialist subject?

If I play Trivial Pursuit I’m passable on the arts, but Mastermind is another story.

Which political figure do you look up to?

Angela Davis and Arundhati Roy. I have a lot of admiration for Jacinda Ardern because she is one of the few politicians leading with common-sense intelligence, genuine compassion and humility.

In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

I would love to have seen Otis Redding and Sam Cooke – not together, but separately – singing “A Change is Gonna Come” live. I would weep all the way through. So around 1964, if only for the music.

What TV show could you not live without?

I could very easily live without TV but I do love Fleabag, Girls, Insecure and Big Little Lies on Friday nights when I want to zone into truthful reflections of women’s lives. I’d like to see more of this in the context of black British lives that don’t revolve around crime and the usual stereotypes.

Who would paint your portrait?

Dorothea Tanning. I like how she used her subjective imagination to convey precise experience and interpretation. I’d have an afro with flames coming out of it.

What’s your theme tune?

I don’t have one. There are so many tunes and so many themes in a single day.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Don’t always be in a rush, because it makes you ill and you miss your life. I’m not good with stress-management and when I remember this it calms me down.

What’s currently bugging you?

Covid-19; not being able to hug my mum.

What single thing would make your life better?

Right now, a swim. 

When were you happiest?

I am happiest when immersed in a writing project, and almost every evening when witnessing my children healthy and asleep.

In another life, what job might you have chosen?

I have been told that I would make a very good PA. I am highly organised and scarily efficient. I think I’d probably enjoy it. 

Are we all doomed?

It seems that way. But there is hope and activism, and the intrinsic, soul-restoring activism of the arts. 

Diana Evans is a judge for the Sunday Times Audible Short Story Award 2020. The longlist will be announced on 3rd May

This article appears in the 01 May 2020 issue of the New Statesman, The second wave

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