Tsitsi Dangarembga

PEN International gave its PEN International Award for Freedom of Expression 2021 to Tsitsi Dangarembga on January 13, 2021.

PEN International Award for Freedom of Expression is handed out annually to writers who have been persecuted for their work and continue working despite their persecution by PEN International since 2005. Previous winners include Ugandan academic, writer, and feminist activist Dr Stella Nyanzi, Palestinian poet Dareen Tatour, Ethiopian journalist Eskinder Nega, and Venezuelan journalist Milagros Socorro).

The winner of the award in 2021 is award-winning Zimbabwean novelist, filmmaker, and playwright Tsitsi Dangarembga. Her novel, This Mournable Body was shortlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize. She is also the author of Nervous Conditions, which she wrote at the age of twenty-five and for which she was awarded the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. Nervous Conditions was praised by Doris Lessing as one of the most important novels of the twentieth century. Dangarembga is also a poet and a dedicated activist, as well as the founding member of PEN Zimbabwe.

Introducing Dangarembga at the Winternachten International Literature Festival The Hague, writer and PEN International President Jennifer Clement said: “It is an honour to give Tsitsi Dangarembga the PEN Award for Freedom of Expression. Her brave work as a writer, filmmaker, and activist in Zimbabwe was once again in the spotlight last year when she was arrested for anti-corruption protests.

Dangarembga’s work centres on the lack of freedoms for women in Zimbabwe’s patriarchal world. Her debut novel Nervous Conditions became the very first published English novel by a black woman from Zimbabwe. I am particularly delighted to give the award to Tsitsi today, a special day which marks the 50th anniversary of the PEN Emergency Fund, an international fund for writers in dire straits of which we are extremely proud”.

On July 31, 2020, she was peacefully protesting corruption in Harare when plainclothes police officers arrested her without stating the charges. She was detained overnight and then charged with incitement to commit violence and breaching anti-coronavirus health regulations. Dangarembga was released on bail and ordered to attend court on 18 September 2020. She was ordered to surrender her passport to the authorities and to report to a police station every week until her next appearance in court. Her case has not progressed, and she continues to make court appearances as ordered. PEN International has been calling for the immediate dropping of all charges against her since August 2020.

Watch Tsitsi receive her award in the below video;