Linton Kwesi Johnson has been awarded the PEN Pinter Prize 2020 today, July 7, 2020. He will receive the award in a digital ceremony co-hosted by the British Library on October 12.
The PEN Pinter Prize is awarded annually to a writer from Britain, the Republic of Ireland or the Commonwealth who, in the words of Harold Pinter’s Nobel Prize winning 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’. Some of those who have won this prize since it was set up in 2009 have been Lemn Sissay, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Michael Longley, Margaret Atwood, Sir Salman Rushdie, and Hanif Kureishi.
Linton Kwesi Johnson was chosen by this year’s judges: The Guardian’s Associate Editor for Culture Claire Armitstead; Dialogue Books Publisher Sharmaine Lovegrove, and author Max Porter.
Claire Armitstead said: ‘Once we had laid our nominations on the table, it took all of two seconds to agree that we had a clear and outstanding winner for the PEN Pinter Prize 2020. Linton Kwesi Johnson is a poet, reggae icon, academic and campaigner, whose impact on the cultural landscape over the last half century has been colossal and multi-generational. His political ferocity and his tireless scrutiny of history are truly Pinteresque, as is the humour with which he pursues them.’
Linton Kwesi Johnson said: ‘Having received a Golden PEN award from English PEN in 2013, I was surprised to learn that, seven years later, I have now been awarded the PEN Pinter Prize. Awards are the nourishment of every artist’s ego. It is always nice to be acknowledged. It is especially gratifying to receive an award that honours the memory of esteemed dramatist, Harold Pinter, free thinker, anti-imperialist and human rights champion. I would like to thank English PEN and the judges for their kind consideration in honouring me again.’
During the virtual ceremony in October, Linton Kwesi Johnson will announce his co-winner, the International Writer of Courage 2020, 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.