Ethio-British poet and playwright, Lemn Sissay, wins PEN Pinter prize

5 Jun 2019

Poet, performer playwright, artist and broadcaster Lemn Sissay MBE has been awarded the PEN Pinter Prize 2019.

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

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’.

Former winners of the prize include Half of a Yellow Sun author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Margaret Atwood, Sir Salman Rushdie, Sir Tom Stoppard and Dame Carol Ann Duffy.

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.”

Lemn Sissay will receive the award at a public ceremony at the British Library on 10th October, where he will deliver an address.

Lemn Sissay was awarded an MBE for services to literature by the Queen and is currently Chancellor of Manchester University. He was the first poet commissioned to write for the London Olympics and poet of the FA Cup.

Lemn’s memoir, My Name is Why, will be published by Canongate Books on 29th August 2019.

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