Poet and academic Michael Longley CBE has been named as the winner of the PEN Pinter Prize 2017.
The prize was established in 2009 by the charity English PEN, which defends freedom of expression and promotes literature, in memory of Nobel-Laureate playwright Harold Pinter. The prize is awarded annually to a writer of outstanding literary merit from Britain, the Republic of Ireland or the Commonwealth who, in the words of Harold 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".
Longley was chosen by this year’s judges as an "ideal recipient" of the prize for his "effortlessly lyric and fluent poetry" which has been "wholly suffused with the qualities of humanity, humility and compassion".
English PEN president Maureen Freely, chaired the judging panel, which this year consisted of Antonia Fraser, historian, biographer and widow of Harold Pinter; Tom Gatti, culture editor of the New Statesman; poet Don Paterson; and playwright Polly Stenham.
Paterson said: "Whether writing as a celebrant, critic, memoirist or elegist, Longley has precisely the 'unswerving gaze' Pinter called for, one often fixed on figures in the margins and shadows ̶ whose lives are often left untroubled by literary description, but who, Longley insistently reminds us, have their own heroism, tragedy and nobility, and whose stories reveal the ‘real truth of our lives."
Longley will receive the award at a public ceremony at the British Library on the evening of 10th October, where he will deliver an address.
Longley said: "Harold Pinter was a great playwright. I have loved and admired his work for many years. He was also a fearless and inspired custodian of English PEN’s ideals: personal liberty and freedom of expression. I might add that Harold Pinter encouraged me in my youth. So, for personal as well as literary and political reasons I am moved and honoured by this award."
Jo Glanville, director of English PEN, said: "The PEN Pinter Prize recognises outstanding authors who exemplify Pinter’s vision of a writer’s obligations as an artist. It’s the highest award English PEN can bestow, celebrating not only the winner’s significant literary achievement, but their role in illuminating the substance of life and politics."
As well as delivering the address at the British Library event in October, Longley will announce his co-winner, the International Writer of Courage 2017, 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 and liberty. The PEN Pinter Prize 2016 was awarded to Margaret Atwood, who shared the prize with Bangladeshi publisher Ahmedur Rashid Chowdhury a.k.a.Tutul.
A limited edition booklet of Michael Longley’s British Library address will be published by Faber & Faber and available to the audience at the event. Tickets will be on sale soon at the British Library's website.
Former winners of the PEN Pinter Prize include Margaret Atwood (2016), James Fenton (2015), Salman Rushdie (2014), Tom Stoppard (2013), Carol Ann Duffy (2012), David Hare (2011), Hanif Kureishi (2010) and Tony Harrison (2009). Former International Writers of Courage have been Ahmedur Rashid Chowdhury a.k.a.Tutul (2016), Raif Badawi (2015), Mazen Darwish (2014), Iryna Khalip (2013), Samar Yazbek (2012), Roberto Saviano (2011), Lydia Cacho (2010) and Zarganar (Maung Thura) (2009).