Tsitsi Dangarembga Receives 2021 PEN Award for Freedom of Expression

On January 13, 2021, the PEN Award for Freedom of Expression will honor Zimbabwean author Tsitsi Dangarembga for her remarkable work in fighting for freedom of expression. Dangarembga is a novelist, poet, filmmaker and playwright. Her novel, This Mournable Body was shortlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize. She is also a dedicated activist, and the founding member of PEN Zimbabwe.

Photo: Tsitsi Dangarembga


The award ceremony will be streamed live as part of the opening night of the online Winternachten International Literature Festival at the Hague.


PEN International President, Jennifer Clement said in a statement, "[f]or the past sixteen years, PEN International has given the PEN Award for Freedom of Expression at the opening ceremony of the Winternachten Festival. With the active participation of Netherlands PEN and the PEN Emergency Fund, the award honors writers who have been persecuted for their work and continue to work despite the consequences. Over the years we have recognized courageous writers such as Anna Politkovskaya and Hrant Dink and Stella Nyanzi."


The award is given in recognition of writers' significant contributions to freedom of expression around the world and as a distinction to writers and journalists committed to free speech despite the danger to their own lives. The date of the award is of symbolic significance as it coincides with the PEN Emergency Fund's 50th anniversary. Since it was founded in 1971, the PEN Emergency Fund has provided vital support to writers who have been persecuted for their work and are in acute financial need, as well as to their families.

In 2020, the same year that her novel The Mournable Body made the Booker shortlist, Dangarembga was arrested in Zimbabwe's capital, Harare, during an anti-government protest. She was charged with intention to incite public violence, however, her arrest was met with immense criticism from the literary community who stood in solidarity with her. Dangarembga displayed unfaltering strength by speaking her truth even while in detention which has made her a worthy recipient of this year's PEN award.


Tsitsi Dangarembga protesting on July 31, 2020 before her arrest. Photograph: Zinyange Auntony/AFP/Getty

Last year, the PEN Award for Freedom of Expression was given to prominent Ugandan academic, writer and feminist activist Dr. Stella Nyanzi who was sentenced to 18 months in prison for "cyber harassment" in November 2018. Her arrest was in relation to a poem she published on Facebook that criticized President Museveni and his mother. Her sentence was overturned in February 202, just four weeks after she received the award.


Other distinguished winners include Nobel Prize recipient Svetlana Alexievich, Palestinian poet Dareen Tatour, Eritrean poet and writer Amanuel Asrat, Honduran activist Dina Meza and Cameroonian journalist and academic Enoh Meyomesse.

2021 marks the PEN International Centenary, and the PEN Award for Freedom of Expression is the first of a series of events to recognize the leading expert on freedom of expression.

The award ceremony will be live streamed on January 13, 2021 from 8:30 to 10:00pm CET (Central European Time). For more information about the program or to purchase tickets click here.

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