Today, Tuesday 8 June, the Zimbabwean novelist, playwright, filmmaker and activist Tsitsi Dangarembga is announced as the winner of the prestigious PEN Pinter Prize 2021 and will be delivering her keynote address at a ceremony hosted by British Library and English PEN on Monday 11 October.
The PEN Pinter Prize was established in 2009 in memory of Nobel-Laureate playwright Harold Pinter. The prize is awarded annually to a writer of outstanding literary merit resident in the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, the Commonwealth or former Commonwealth, who, in the words of 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’.
Tsitsi Dangarembga said:
I am grateful that my casting – in the words of Harold Pinter – an “unflinching, unswerving gaze” upon my country and its society has resonated with many people across the globe and this year with the jury of the PEN Pinter Prize 2021. I believe that the positive reception of literary works like mine helps to prove that we can unite around that which is positively human.
Tsitsi Dangarembga was chosen by this year’s judges: The Guardian’s Associate Editor for Culture and English PEN trustee, Claire Armitstead; literary critic and Editor-at-large for Canongate Ellah P. Wakatama, and poet Andrew McMillan.
The judges said of Dangarembga:
Claire Armitstead said:
Tsitsi Dangarembga has had an unusual and exemplary career as a writer, filmmaker and activist, who has made things happen for other people as well as achieving in her own right. Through her trilogy of novels, starting with Nervous Conditions in 1988 and culminating 30 years later in her fine, Booker shortlisted This Mournable Body, she has charted the development of Zimbabwe from a British colony to an autocratic and troubled free state. In doing so, she has held a magnifying glass up to the struggles of ordinary people, in so many parts of the world, to lead good lives in the increasingly corrupt and fractured new world order. Hers is a voice we all need to hear and heed.
Ellah P. Wakatama said:
Tsitsi Dangarembga’s work through her books, activism and films demonstrates diligence, stoicism, and the ability to capture and communicate vital truths even amidst times of upheaval. It is an honour to join my colleagues in raising up the voice of a woman whose words have written the story of my country of birth with a clarity, bravery and honesty that is a rare and precious gift.
Andrew McMillan said:
I’m honoured to have been able to sit with my fellow judges, and to shine a light on Tsitsi Dangarembga in this way; and through her choice to highlight another international writer of courage. When Nervous Conditions was published in 1988 it was the first novel to be published in English by a black woman from Zimbabwe; here’s to our bookshelves, our syllabuses and our collective imaginations being full of many more, from current and future generations, in the years to come.
The prize will be shared with an International Writer of Courage: a writer who is active in defence of freedom of expression, often at great risk to their own safety and liberty. The co-winner, selected by Dangarembga from a shortlist of international cases supported by English PEN, will be announced at the event on 11 October.
This year’s award ceremony is part of English PEN’s centenary programme Common Currency, a year-long celebration of freedom of expression, creative campaigning, and the best literature the world has to offer.
Former winners of the PEN Pinter Prize are Linton Kwesi Johnson (2020), Lemn Sissay (2019), Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie (2018), Michael Longley (2017), Margaret Atwood (2016), James Fenton (2015), Salman Rushdie (2014), Tom Stoppard (2013), Carol Ann Duffy (2012), David Hare (2011), Hanif Kureishi (2010) and Tony Harrison (2009). Former International Writers of Courage have been: Amanuel Asrat (2020), Befeqadu Hailu (2019), Waleed Abulkhair (2018), Mahvash Sabet (2017), Ahmedur Rashid Chowdhury a.k.a.Tutul (2016), Raif Badawi (2015), Mazen Darwish (2014), Iryna Khalip (2013), Samar Yazbek (2012), Roberto Saviano (2011), Lydia Cacho (2010) and Zarganar (Maung Thura) (2009).
The PEN Pinter Prize is supported by the generosity of the Blavatnik Family Foundation and Ruth Maxted.
Photo credit: Tsitsi Dangarembga by Hannah Mentz