Poet and performer playwright Lemn Sissay has been awarded the PEN Pinter Prize, with judges praising his ability to "forge beautiful words and a thousand reasons to live and love".
Sissay, who is also an artist and broadcaster, said he accept the award as a "sign" he should continue his work. He will receive the award at a public ceremony at the British Library on the evening of Thursday 10th October, where he will deliver an address that will be published by Faber.
The PEN Pinter Prize was established in 2009 by the charity English PEN, which defends freedom of expression and celebrates literature, in memory of Nobel-Laureate playwright Harold Pinter.
Recalling an encounter with Pinter, Sissay said: “I met Harold Pinter when I was 36. We were on stage at The Royal Court. I was too intimidated or self-conscious to speak to him. And so I will now. Thank-you. What I like about this award is that it is from a great writer and a great organisation. I accept it as a sign that I should continue. All I have is what I leave behind. All I am is what I do.”
Sissay was chosen by this year’s judges: writer, translator and chair of English PEN Maureen Freely; culture correspondent at the Economist Fiammetta Rocco and author Niven Govinden.
The prize is awarded annually to a writer of outstanding literary merit resident in the UK, the Republic of Ireland or the Commonwealth 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"
Freely said: "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. On the page and on the stage, online or at the Foundling Museum, this is an Orpheus who never stops singing."
Awarded an MBE for services to literature, Sissay has also won a NESTA New Radical Award for his work as a poet and children’s rights campaigning. He is also Chancellor of The University of Manchester and Poet Laureate of Canterbury. His memoir, My Name is Why (Canongate), will be published on 29th August.