Roberto Saviano wins the PEN/Pinter International Writer of Courage Award 2011

Italian writer, Roberto Saviano, whose work exposing the organised crime of the Neopolitan mafia means he must live in hiding under 24 hour police protection has been announced as the writer of courage with whom Sir David Hare will share the PEN/Pinter prize 2011.  

Sir David Hare made the announcement in a speech at the British Library tonight when he accepted the PEN/Pinter prize 2011, awarded to him by this year’s judges Hanif Kureishi, Lady Antonia Fraser, Gillian Slovo, Claire Tomalin and Michael Billington.

The PEN/Pinter Prize was established in 2009  in memory of the Nobel-winning playwright Harold Pinter. The Prize is awarded annually to a British writer or a writer resident in Britain of outstanding literary merit who, in the words of Harold Pinter’s Nobel 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’.

The prize is shared with an imprisoned writer of courage selected by English PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee in association with the winner. This half of the prize is awarded to someone who has been persecuted for speaking out about their beliefs.

Sir David Hare said: ‘Roberto Saviano took on the Neopolitan mafia, first in the novel Gomorrah and then in the film made from it.  He did so at great risk to his own safety. My hope in sharing my prize with him is that a measure of recognition from PEN may, in however small a way, make his life easier. Saviano has said that when reporting is combined with imagination then literature ‘speaks to the reader. It invades his space.’ I could not agree more’.  

Harold Pinter’s widow, Antonia Fraser, former President of English Pen and now Vice- President commented: ‘Harold would be proud to have his name associated with two such marvellous writers, each of whom speaks out courageously in his own sphere’.

Roberto Saviano who lives in hiding, following threats to his life, could not be present to accept his prize. He sent a message: ‘My gratitude goes to those who made it possible that my words became dangerous for certain powers that need silence and shade, and to those who assimilated them, bearing witness that they belong to everybody. This prize goes to my readers. I owe it to them because if tonight if you are reading, it is because of you I have brought what is dear to my heart out of the pages and into the media and without too much hesitation, because when you feel that so many need to see, to know and to change, and not just to be entertained or comforted, then it is worth it to carry on writing’.

The PEN/Pinter Prize is in its third year. Hanif Kureishi was the winner of the prize in 2010 and he announced that Mexican journalist and human-rights activist Lydia Cacho would share the award with him as the writer of courage.

The prize has been made possible by the generosity of Ruth Maxted, the Thompson Family Charitable Trust, the Blavatnik Family Foundation and an anonymous donor.

The British Library is the home of Harold Pinter’s archive, including his Nobel Prize medal and diploma. Sir David Hare’s speech at the British Library has been published by Faber and Faber.

Notes to Editors

•    Sir David Hare was a co-founder of the Portable Theatre Company acting, directing and writing plays from the late 1960s. His first play Slag (Faber and Faber) was produced in London at the Hampstead Theatre Club in 1970. He was a resident dramatist at the Royal Court Theatre, London and later at the Nottingham Playhouse.

In 1975 he co-founded the Joint Stock Theatre Company. He began writing for the National Theatre in 1978 where his plays included Plenty (Faber and Faber, 1978), a portrait of disillusionment in post-war Britain and Pravda: A Fleet Street Comedy, an attack on the English Press written by Howard Brenton (Methuen, 1985). He became an Associate Director of the National Theatre in 1984 and has since seen many of his plays produced such as The Absence of War (Faber and Faber, 1993) about three British institutions – the Anglican church, the legal system and the Labour Party.   He has also adapted Chekhov’s Ivanov (Methuen, 1997) and Platanov (Faber and Faber, 2001).

More recent plays include The Permanent Way (Faber and Faber, 2003) the story of a political dream turned sour which explores the privatisation of British Rail and opened at the National Theatre in January 2004. His play Stuff Happens (Faber and Faber, 2004) was premiered at the same theatre in 2005, and is about the invasion of Iraq.  David Hare was knighted in 1998 and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

•    Roberto Saviano (born in Naples on 22nd September 1979) is an Italian journalist and writer. In Italy he is a contributor to “L’espresso” and “la Repubblica”, in the US, to the “Washington Post” and “Time”, in Spain to “El pais”, in Germany to “Die Zeit” and “Der Spiegel”, in England to “The Times”.  He uses literature and reportage to analyse reality and his first book, Gomorra (Mondadori 2006), soon became a bestseller and sold more than two million copies in Italy and up to four million all around the world. Gomorra has been translated in 53 countries and is a bestseller also in Germany, the UK, Holland, Belgium, Spain, France, Switzerland, Sweden, Finland, Albania and South America.

As a consequence of the book’s outstanding success and of its uncompromising attack on organized crime, Roberto Saviano received a number of serious death threats that obliged the Italian authorities to provide him with 24-hour police protection. Since 13th October 2006 he has lived in hiding and has to continuously change his movements for security reasons.

The book has inspired a play of the same name, which won the 2008 Olympics of Theatre for Italy’s best new writer, and a film, Gomorra, which won the Grand Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival.

In June 2009, a collection of pieces by Roberto Saviano (articles, short stories and reportages) written from 2004 to 2009, in the years of his hiding, was published by Mondadori. Its title is La bellezza e l’inferno, after a quotation by the French writer Albert Camus. MacLehose Press has published in the UK in May 2011 under the title: Beauty and the Inferno. It was translated into English by Oonagh Stransky.

Roberto Saviano still lives in hiding.

•    English PEN is the founding centre of a worldwide writers’ association, with centres in more than one hundred countries, whose members work to promote literature and defend free expression.

•    English PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) was established in 1960 to campaign on behalf of imprisoned writers around the world.

•    The PEN/Pinter Prize is supported by the generosity of Ruth Maxted, the Thompson Family Charitable Trust and an anonymous donor.

•    Harold Pinter (10 October 1930 – 24 December 2008) was a Vice President of English PEN. He visited Turkey on behalf of the WiPC with Arthur Miller in 1985, where they were escorted by Orhan Pamuk.

•    The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom and one of the world’s greatest research libraries. It provides world class information services to the academic, business, research and scientific communities and offers unparalleled access to the world’s largest and most comprehensive research collection. The Library’s collection has developed over 250 years and exceeds 150 million separate items representing every age of written civilisation and includes books, journals, manuscripts, maps, stamps, music, patents, photographs, newspapers and sound recordings in all written and spoken languages. Up to 10 million people visit the British Library website –  – every year where they can view up to 4 million digitised collection items and over 40 million pages.

For more information please contact Rachel Duffield at
Colman Getty T: 020 7631 2666 / E:

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