Zimbabwean novelist and activist Tsitsi Dangaremgba has been awarded the 2021 PEN Pinter Prize. She is the second African to earn this honor following Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in 2018.
Awarded in honor of Nobel Prize laureate Pen Pinter, the annual award honors a single writer of outstanding literary merit resident in the UK, Ireland, former and present Commonwealth territories whose work 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.”
There is perhaps no better embodiment of this principle than Dangaremgba who just last year was arrested and temporarily detained by the Zimbabwean Republic Police (ZRP) for participating in a protest against bad governance and corruption. Her award-winning body of work has also radically spotlighted Zimbabwe, from its colonial years to independence.
The 2021 judging panel includes The Guardian’s Associate Editor for Culture, Claire Armitstead who is also an English PEN trustee; literary critic and Editor-at-large for Canongate Ellah P. Wakatama, and poet Andrew McMillan. They appeared unanimous in their choice of awardee, individually citing Dangaremgba’s unflinching courage as well as her outstanding literary merit as the qualities that swayed their choice.
Pen Pinter Prize awardees customarily select a co-winner, an International Writer of Courage who is “active in defence of freedom of expression, often at great risk to their own safety and liberty.” Dangaremgba’s selection will be announced on 11 October.
Regarding her win, Dangaremgba said:
“I am grateful that my casting – in the words of Harold Pinter – an “unflinching, unswerving gaze” upon my country and its society has resonated with many people across the globe and this year with the jury of the PEN Pinter Prize 2021. I believe that the positive reception of literary works like mine helps to prove that we can unite around that which is positively human.”
Congratulations to Tsitsi Dangaremgba!