British poet, journalist and literary critic James Fenton has been awarded the 2015 PEN Pinter Prize.
The annual prize was established in 2009 by English PEN in memory of playwright Harold Pinter to recognise to a British writer of outstanding literary merit, who, in the words of Pinter’s Nobel Prize in Literature speech, 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”.
Fenton was chosen by this year’s judges Susannah Clapp, Sam Leith, Hisham Matar, Antonia Fraser, and the chair of judges, English PEN president Maureen Freely. He will receive his award at a public event at the British Library on Tuesday 6th October, where he will deliver an address.
Freely said: “Throughout his long and distinguished career, James Fenton has spoken truth to power - forcefully, fearlessly, and beautifully. In this age of privatised art, it is increasingly rare for writers to retain this degree of public commitment, and that is one reason why we so pleased to be awarding him this prize. But the main reason, of course, is that James Fenton is one of the finest poets of his generation.”
Fraser, who is Pinter’s widow, added: “James Fenton is a writer who Harold Pinter much admired for all his work, but particularly for his ability to write brilliant political poetry. This is an art which was very important to Harold not only for the poetry but also as part of the essential process of speaking up fearlessly: which is the basis on which the PEN Pinter Prize is founded. James Fenton is thus a worthy winner of the latest prize.”
Fenton's books include Children in Exile: Poems 1968-1984 (Penguin), which won the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize in 1984, and his most recent published work is 2012’s collection of poetry, Yellow Tulips (Faber). He was was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1983 and was awarded the Queen’s Medal for Poetry in 2007. He is currently writing a collection of unusual biographies called Private Lives and a book about pirates for Notting Hill Press.
He said that he was “greatly honoured and touched” to be given the award and to be connected with Harold Pinter, whose writings he has “long admired”.
As well as delivering an address at the British Library Fenton will announce his co-winner, the 2015 International Writer of Courage, selected from a shortlist of international cases supported by English PEN. The recipient will be an international writer who is active in defence of freedom of expression, often at great risk to their own safety.
A limited edition booklet containing Fenton’s address will be published by Faber & Faber and available to the audience at the event.
Last year’s PEN Pinter Prize winner was author Salman Rushdie, who chose Syrian journalist, lawyer and human rights defender Mazen Darwish as the International Writer of Courage.