Poet Lemn Sissay Wins Penn Pinter Prize 2019

Posted: Jun, 3rd 2019 Contributor: Bilen Shifferaw,

Poet Lemn Sissay Wins Penn Pinter Prize 2019

Poet, performer playwright, artist and broadcaster Lemn Sissay has been awarded the PEN Pinter Prize 2019. He will receive the award at a public ceremony at the British Library on the evening of Thursday 10 October, where he will deliver an address.

Lemn Sissay was chosen by this year’s judges: writer, translator and chair of English PEN Maureen Freely; culture correspondent at The Economist Fiammetta Rocco and author Niven Govinden.

Maureen Freely said:

‘In his every work, Lemn Sissay returns to the underworld he inhabited as an unclaimed child.  From his sorrows, he forges beautiful words and a thousand reasons to live and love. On the page and on the stage, online or at the Foundling Museum, this is an Orpheus who never stops singing.’

Lemn Sissay said:

‘I met Harold Pinter when I was thirty-six. We were on stage at The Royal Court. I was too intimidated or self-conscious to speak to him. And so I will now. Thank you.  What I like about this award is that it is from a great writer and a great organisation. I accept it as a sign that I should continue. All I have is what I leave behind. All I am is what I do.’

The PEN Pinter Prize was established in 2009 by the charity English PEN, which defends freedom of expression and celebrates literature, in memory of Nobel-Laureate playwright Harold Pinter. The prize is awarded annually to a writer of outstanding literary merit resident in the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland or the Commonwealth who, in the words of Harold 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’.

During the public ceremony at the British Library, Lemn Sissay will announce his co-winner, the International Writer of Courage 2019, 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. The PEN Pinter Prize 2018 was awarded to writer Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie, who shared the prize with lawyer and human rights activist Waleed Abulkhair.

A limited edition booklet of Lemn Sissay’s British Library address will be published by Faber & Faber and available to the audience at the event. Tickets will be on sale soon at the British Library website.

Former winners of the PEN Pinter Prize are: 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: 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).


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