The Prize, established in 2009 in memory of the playwright Harold Pinter, is awarded annually to a British writer of outstanding literary merit who 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’ – The quotes are from Pinter’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech.
On 8 October I went to the PEN/Pinter Prize evening at the British Library to see Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy collect her award.
Duffy accepted the award with modest good grace, saying she didn’t feel worthy of it. However, she did proudly note that both she and Harold Pinter had benefited from a state education. How many potential young writers might we be losing as Michael Gove turns back the clock on state schools, she wondered. A scandal!
She read a selection of her work – with musical accompaniment from John Sampson - amply demonstrating that she met Pinter’s criteria. There was a long poem about the First World War and its futility alongside a wry, pin-sharp riposte to the teacher who had a Duffy poem banned from the school syllabus, ‘Mrs Schofield’s GCSE.’ You can read it, here
But that wasn’t the end of the evening. The award comes in two parts. It then fell to Duffy to announce the second part of the prize which is offered to an international writer of courage. Duffy had nominated the Syrian journalist and novelist, Samar Yazbek. Forced out of Syria because of her views and her writing Yazbek now lives in exile in Europe. You can read about her life in exile, here.
Clearly very moved by this recognition of her writing, Samar Yazbek read her acceptance speech in Arabic. Her non-fiction, A Woman in the Crossfire: Diaries of the Syrian Revolution, as already attacted much attention. Interestingly Yazbek has a novel due to be published here, Cinnamon, translated by Emily Danby. It's due out on 5 November. Not long to wait.