Kakwenza Rukirabashaija

Tsitsi Dangarembga selected Kakwenza Rukirabashaija as the PEN International Writer of Courage 2021 award. The revelation was made at a ceremony at the British Library, London, UK on Monday, October 11, 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 were 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. On June 8, they announced Zimbabwean novelist, playwright, filmmaker and activist Tsitsi Dangarembga as the winner of the PEN Pinter Prize 2021. The prize was to 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, was to be selected by Dangarembga from a shortlist of international cases supported by English PEN.

The selected winner of the International Writer of Courage revealed at Tsitsi Dangarembga as she delivered a keynote address at a ceremony hosted by British Library and English PEN is Ugandan novelist Kakwenza Rukirabashaija on Monday, October 11. He is the author of The Greedy Barbarian, a novel which explores themes of high-level corruption in a fictional country, and Banana Republic: Where Writing is Treasonous, an account of the torture he was subjected to while in detention in 2020. 

Dangarembga paid tribute to Rukirabashaija, saying: “My career has taught me that the work of a writer is doing and that when circumstances allow, this doing is in fact writing. On the other hand, when circumstances do not allow for the writing process, a writer continues the expression that is no longer possible in literature, or that has become inadequate through literature with other actions. I have come to see that the work of writing is not to be seen to be doing but, in fact, to do and to keep on doing, regardless of circumstances. Only sometimes, if a writer is very fortunate, is that doing seen.”

The author said: “I would like to congratulate Tsitsi Dangarembga for the deserved PEN Pinter Prize and thank her wholeheartedly for having chosen to share with me this prestigious prize. If it weren’t for PEN, I would still be somewhere in prison—perhaps forgotten. When I was hanging on chains in the dungeons, I swore to my tormentors that I would never write again if they gave me a chance to live—as if they were some deities or God. Truth is, I survived death. I appreciate PEN for advocating for my freedom of expression and the different centres all over the world that sent in lovely messages of courage. I received the messages with smiles even though I was in horrendous pain.”