Linton Kwesi Johnson wins major literary prize in memory of Harold Pinter

Poet Linton Kwesi Johnson has won a major literary prize set up in memory of playwright Harold Pinter.

The writer and musician has been awarded the PEN Pinter Prize 2020, with judges saying “few post-war figures have been as unwaveringly committed to political expression in their work”.

Jamaican-born Johnson, 67,  was the first black poet to be published in the Penguin Modern Classics series and often recites his poetry over dub-reggae alongside renowned reggae artist Dennis Bovell.

Bernie Grant tribute Kwesi Johnson
Poet and singer Linton Kwesi Johnson has won a major literary prize (Yui Mok/PA)

Reacting to his award win, Johnson said: “Having received a Golden PEN award from English PEN in 2013, I was surprised to learn that, seven years later, I have now been awarded the PEN Pinter Prize.

“Awards are the nourishment of every artist’s ego. It is always nice to be acknowledged. It is especially gratifying to receive an award that honours the memory of esteemed dramatist, Harold Pinter, free thinker, anti-imperialist and human rights champion.

“I would like to thank English PEN and the judges for their kind consideration in honouring me again.’

Johnson will receive the award in a digital ceremony co-hosted by the British Library on October 12, where he will deliver an address.

He will also announce his co-winner, the International Writer of Courage 2020, selected from a shortlist of international cases supported by English PEN.

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 Pinter.

It honours artists who take an “unflinching, unswerving” look at the world.

Lady Antonia Fraser, Pinter’s widow, said: “On what would have been Harold’s 90th birthday, this is the perfect way to mark the memory of Harold because, like him, the PEN Pinter Prize combines respect for great writing with an unquenchable concern for human rights.”

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