Zimbabwean novelist Tsitsi Dangarembga awarded PEN Pinter Prize 2021

Tsitsi Dangarembga, a prominent Zimbabwean novelist, has been named the winner of this year’s Pen Pinter Prize. 

She will give a keynote talk at a ceremony held by the British Library and English PEN on Monday, October 11th, as a result of her award. 

In 2009, the PEN Pinter Prize was founded in honor of Nobel Prize-winning writer Harold Pinter. 

The prize is given yearly to a writer of exceptional literary merit who lives in the United Kingdom, Ireland, the Commonwealth, or a former Commonwealth country.

In the words of Harold Pinter’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech, the winning writer must cast a “unflinching, unswerving” gaze on the world and demonstrate a “fierce intellectual desire to identify the fundamental truth of our lives and communities.”

Dangarembga later commented by saying, “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.”

Dangarembga began studying medicine at the University of Cambridge but dropped out when her parents returned to Zimbabwe after the country’s independence. 

She changed her major to psychology at the University of Zimbabwe, then travelled to Germany to study cinema. 

Dangarembga shot to fame in 1988 with her debut novel “Nervous Conditions,” a coming-of-age drama about a girl’s struggle to escape poverty and obtain an education in Rhodesia before the country earned independence from Britain in 1980. 

It was the first English-language novel written by a black Zimbabwean lady. 

It won the Commonwealth Book Prize for fiction in 1989, and the BBC named it one of the best 100 books of the year in 2018.

She penned the script for “Neria,” a 1993 melodrama that was well-received internationally. 

After taking part in a two-women silent demonstration in 2020, the writer was detained, thrown into a police cell, and accused with inciting public violence. 

The 61-year-old left home on July 31st, promising her husband she’d be back soon after organizing a spontaneous protest along a nearby road. 

She and a companion were arrested while standing on a street corner holding posters calling for reform of Zimbabwe’s institutions and the freedom of critics.

Educator, writer and legal researcher at Alafarika for Studies and Consultancy.

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