Canadian poet, novelist and environmental activist Margaret Atwood has been awarded the 2016 PEN Pinter Prize. She will receive her award at a public event at the British Library on the evening of Thursday 13 October, where she will deliver an address.
Margaret Atwood was chosen by this year’s judges Vicky Featherstone, Zia Haider Rahman, Peter Stothard, Antonia Fraser and President of English PEN and Chair of Judges, Maureen Freely.
The judges praised Atwood as a ‘consistent supporter of political causes’, adding ‘her work championing environmental concerns comes well within the scope of human rights … she is a very important figure in terms of the principles of PEN and of Harold Pinter’.
I am humbled to be the recipient of the 2016 PEN Pinter Prize. I knew Harold Pinter and worked with him – he wrote the scenario for the film version of The Handmaid’s Tale, back in 1989 – and his burning sense of injustice at human rights abuses and the repression of artists was impressive even then. Any winner of such an award is a stand-in for the thousands of people around the world who speak and act against such abuses. I am honoured to be this year’s stand-in.
The PEN Pinter Prize was established in 2009 by English PEN, founding centre of the worldwide writers’ association and freedom of expression charity, in memory of Nobel-Laureate playwright Harold Pinter. The prize is awarded annually to a writer of outstanding literary merit who, in the words of Harold Pinter’s Nobel Prize in Literature speech, casts an ‘unflinching, unswerving’ gaze upon the world and shows a ‘fierce intellectual determination … to define the real truth of our lives and our societies’. This year, for the first time, the prize is open to writers from the Republic of Ireland and the Commonwealth, as well as from the UK.
Antonia Fraser, Harold Pinter’s widow, praised Atwood:
Harold admired Margaret Atwood in three ways, as a writer, a campaigner and a person. He would be especially delighted by her generous response to this award.
Maureen Freely, President of English PEN, said:
In a profession dominated by careerists who are content to tend to their own gardens, Margaret Atwood is the shining exception. She does not just stand up for her principles: in novel after novel, she has put them to the test. What she does as a campaigner has only served to deepen her work as a writer of fiction. She is an inspiration to us all.
As well as delivering the address at the British Library event in October, Margaret Atwood will announce her co-winner, the 2016 International Writer of Courage, selected from a shortlist of international cases supported by English PEN. The recipient will be an international writer who is active in defence of freedom of expression, often at great risk to their own safety and liberty. The 2015 PEN Pinter Prize was awarded to James Fenton, who shared the prize with Raif Badawi as the International Writer of Courage.
A limited edition booklet of Margaret Atwood’s British Library address will be published by Faber & Faber and available to the audience at the event.