Lemn Sissay, who is a British-Ethiopian author, has won the 2019 PEN Pinter Prize.
The 52-year-old author, playwright, performer and broadcaster has received the prestigious prize awarded every year to deserving literary activists whose work cast an “unflinching, unswerving’ gaze upon the world.”
Explaining why he was chosen, the Chair of the judges,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.”
This makes him the second African writer to win this prize for the second year in a row. The first was Nigerian writer Chimamanda Adichie Ngozi,who got the award, established in memory of playwright Harold Pinter, back in 2018.
Reacting to the win, Sissay said: “I met Harold Pinter when I was 36. 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 coveted prize will be presented to him in October at a public ceremony at the British Library.