Tsitsi Dangarembga

Tsitsi Dangarembga has been announced the recipient of the PEN Pinter Prize 2021 by the English PEN today, June 8, 2021.

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 it since 2009 have been Linton Kwesi Johnson, Lemn Sissay, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Sir Salman Rushdie, and Hanif Kureishi.

The judges for this year’s cycle are 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. Today, they announced Zimbabwean novelist, playwright, filmmaker and activist Tsitsi Dangarembga as the winner of the PEN Pinter Prize 2021; she will be delivering her keynote address at a ceremony hosted by British Library and English PEN on Monday 11 October.

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.”

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.”

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 an event on October 11.