The British poet and playwright Lemn Sissay has been awarded the prestigious 2019 PEN Pinter Prize.
The award – founded in 2009 in memory of Pinter and won by such authors as Margaret Atwood, Salman Rushdie and Tom Stoppard – is assigned every year to an English, Irish or Commonwealth writer who, as Harold himself declared in his Nobel acceptance speech, “casts an unflinching, unswerving gaze upon the world and who shows fierce intellectual determination … to define the real truth of our lives and our societies.”
The jury motivated its choice in assigning the prize: “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”
Born in 1967 and of Ethiopian origins, Sissay had a troubled childhood and adolescence, marked by abuse and ill-treatment: taken away from his other at only two months he was adopted by a family who twelve years later put him in an institution. After spending years “in State care” (as he himself ironically states) and a long search for his real mother whom he met at 21 years of age, Sissay published his first book of poems in 1988 which was followed by another four. He has worked for the BBC for years making a number of documentaries and has just completed “My Name Is Why”, the story of his life.
Remembering Pinter, Sissay said: “I met Harold Pinter when I was 36. We were onstage at The Royal Court. I was too intimidated or self-conscious to speak to him. And so I will do it now: thank you!”