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A inspiring evening at the British Museum on 14 October, hosted by writers’ charity English PEN, where the poet, playwright and classicist Tony Harrison was presented with the inaugural PEN/Pinter Prize.
Established by English PEN in memory of the Nobel-winning playwright Harold Pinter, it is to be awarded annually to a British writer or writer resident in Britain who, in the words of Pinter’s Nobel 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’.
The PEN/Pinter Prize is also intended to be shared with an imprisoned writer of courage, selected by the winner in consultation with English PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee.
Harrison chose the Burmese poet, performer and comedian Zargana, recently condemned to thirty-five years in prison for the ‘crime’ of independently organising aid for victims of Cyclone Nargis.
“When he was in solitary confinement he had to scratch his poems with a pot fragment on the floor of his cell, then commit them to memory,” Harrison told the audience at the award, closing his lecture to commemorate their joint award.
“May all those poets I have summoned up today make him at this moment the centre of their gaze and honour the prisoner-poet for his still defiant poetic gift.”
Burmese Theatre Workshop presents: Let Me Out of Hell at the Free Word Centre at 12.00 on 28th October 2009: A scratch performance of a new play about about Burma after cyclone Nargis, devised by Burmese Theatre Workshop and directed by Andrew Mclay. Details from the Free Word Centre, e-mail [email protected] or phone 020 7324 2570.
English PEN website.
In 1992, Harold Pinter talked to Index on Censorship editor Andrew Graham-Yooll about his struggle to publish ‘obscene words to describe obscene acts and obscene attitudes’. Indexoncensorship.org here reproduces the article.