Zimbabwean novelist Tsitsi Dangarembga Is The 2021 PEN Pinter Prize Award Winner

Tsitsi Dangarembga                                                                                               Image Credit:Hannah Mentz

The 2021 PEN Pinter Prize  has been awarded to Tsitsi Dangarembga, a Zimbabwean novelist, playwright, filmmaker and activist. Tsitsi Dangarembga has been awarded  for her "cultural significance" and charting "the development of Zimbabwe from a British colony to an autocratic and troubled-free state".

In acceptance speech, Tsitsi 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."

The PEN Pinter Prize was established in 2009 by the charity English PEN, which defends freedom of expression and celebrates literature. In memory of playwright Harold Pinter, the prize is awarded annually to a writer of outstanding literary merit resident in the United Kingdom, 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". Last year the award went to poet and reggae recording artist Linton Kwesi Johnson for his commitment to political expression in his work.

Judge Ellah P. Wakatama, independent editor, critic, broadcaster and English PEN trustee, 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."

She added: "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."

Fellow judge Claire Armitstead, the Guardian’s associate editor for culture and an English PEN trustee, said 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".

Dangarembga will receive her award at a ceremony hosted by the British Library and English PEN on 11th October, where she will also deliver a keynote address. At the same time she will also announce her co-winner, the International Writer of Courage 2021, selected from a shortlist of international cases supported by English PEN

Dangarembga was shortlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize with This Mournable Body (Faber), and won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in 1988 for its predecessor, Nervous Conditions (Faber).

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).
Mungwadzi Godwin

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