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Lemn Sissay awarded PEN Pinter Prize
Lemn Sissay

Lemn Sissay awarded PEN Pinter Prize

The Ethiopian born British playwright and activist, Lemn Sissay was awarded the 2019 recipient of the PEN Pinter Prize, named in honor of a celebrated Nobel recipient and British playwright Harold Pinter .

The prolific writer and chancellor of the University of Manchester was awarded for his body of work, including his experience as an adoptee, on racism, and has been a recent advocate for the return of Prince Alemayehu, the son of Emperor Tewodros II from the United Kingdom.

‘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; one of the judges, writer Maureen Freely told the Guardian newspaper.

Harold Pinter, like Lemn, grew up in foster homes. He has endured the shortcomings of the system, and lived to tell his story in a series of writings and documentaries.

After it was announced, the recipient, Lemn, thanked his colleague, in which the prize was named after.

 “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,’ Lemn said. “What I like about this award is that it is from a great writer and a great organization. I accept it as a sign that I should continue.”

Lemn will officially receive the award in October, which celebrates writers of their exceptional talent that is “unflinching, unswerving look at the world.”

Lemn released his first book of poetry in 1988 at the age of 21, and since the age of 24 he has been a full-time writer, performing internationally. In 1995, he made the BBC documentary Internal Flight about his life. His 2005 drama Something Dark deals with his search for his family, and was adapted for BBC Radio 3 in 2006, winning the UK Commission for Racial Equality's Race in the Media award (RIMA).

In 2007, Lemn was appointed artist-in-residence at London's Southbank Centre. He was the official poet of the 2012 London Olympics, has worked with the British Council and is a patron of the Letterbox Club, supporting children in care. His work has featured at the Royal Academy and the British Film Institute. Lemn was made an Honorary Doctor of Letters by the University of Huddersfield in 2009 and was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 2010 New Year Honors. In 2014 Lemn was appointed as a Fellow of the Foundling Museum.

Lemn's television appearances include The South Bank Show and the BBC's series Grumpy Old Men. As a radio broadcaster Lemn makes documentaries for the BBC. He is a regular contributor on BBC Radio 4's Saturday Live, which in 2008 was nominated for two Sony Awards. He also contributes to the BBC's Book Panel.