Lemn Sissay and Befeqadu Hailu share PEN Pinter Prize

14 Oct 2019

Back in June, Lemn Sissay was chosen as the recipient of the PEN Pinter Prize 2019. At the Prize ceremony, held on Thursday 10th October at the British Library, it was announced that Ethiopian writer, activist and co-founder of blogging platform Zone 9 Befeqadu Hailu is this year’s International Writer of Courage.

Making the announcement, Lemn Sissay said:

“It is because of his passion for writing and belief in freedom of expression for Ethiopians that I have chosen Befeqadu Hailu.  He is a novelist and a poet and a blogger. He is a man who stands by his word and whose words stood in the face of prison and arose far far above to declaim in the name of humanity.  When I was considering him I spoke to many Ethiopians in Ethiopia about him. He is loved by his people and the younger generation:  he is a twenty-first-century hero.  It was obvious that the Writer of Courage had to be him.  He is my hero.”

In his acceptance speech, Befeqadu Hailu, said:

“I think freedom of writing or freedom of speech is an intermediary path between change and violence. Many writers disdain violence. And yet, they write sour truth and encourage audiences to get out of their comfort zone to configure a better world. No war, no force, no campaign has as much power to change the world without claiming lives as writing.”

Ambassador Fesseha and the Head of Public Diplomacy, Mr. Mekonnen Amare, attended the awards ceremony. Here they are pictured with Lemn Sissay and Befeqadu Hailu.

The PEN Pinter Prize goes to a writer who is deemed to, in the words of Harold Pinter’s Nobel speech, cast an “unflinching, unswerving” gaze upon the world, and show a “fierce intellectual determination…to define the real truth of our lives and our societies”. Lemn Sissay, was described by judges as “an Orpheus who never stops singing”, who in every work “returns to the underworld he inhabited as an unclaimed child”, and “from his sorrows … forges beautiful words and a thousand reasons to live and love”.

The prize is shared with an international writer of courage who has been persecuted for speaking out about their beliefs.

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