For her “ability to capture and communicate vital truths even amidst times of upheaval”, Zimbabwean writer Tsitsi Dangarembga will receive the PEN Pinter prize in memory of the Nobel laureate Harold Pinter.
Dangarembga is the author of Nervous Conditions, which she wrote when she was 25, and which was described by Doris Lessing as one of the most important novels of the 20th century.
The story of a village girl called Tambudzai, it was followed by The Book of Not, about Tambu’s teenage years, and the Booker-shortlisted This Mournable Body, the third part of the trilogy, set in the postcolonial Zimbabwe of the 1990s.
Dangarembga is also a film-maker, playwright and activist who was arrested last summer while protesting in Harare, charged with intention to incite public violence. Her case has not progressed, and free speech organizations, along with her fellow writers, have called for the charges against her to be dropped.
“Through her trilogy of novels … she has charted the development of Zimbabwe from a British colony to an autocratic and troubled free state,” said Claire Armitstead, associate editor at The Guardian for culture and English PEN trustee. “In doing so, she has held a magnifying glass up to the struggles of ordinary people, in so many parts of the world, to lead good lives in the increasingly corrupt and fractured new world order. Hers is a voice we all need to hear and heed.”
“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,” said Dangarembga. “I believe that the positive reception of literary works like mine helps to prove that we can unite around that which is positively human.”
Dangarembga will deliver a keynote speech at a ceremony on Oct. 11, when she will announce the co-winner of her prize – an International Writer of Courage who is “active in defense of freedom of expression, often at great risk to their own safety and liberty”.