Tsitsi Dangarembga Wins 2021 PEN Award for Freedom of Expression

The Zimbabwean novelist, most recently on the December 2020 cover of Open Country Mag, was arrested last year for protesting in Harare.
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Tsitsi Dangarembga.

Tsitsi Dangarembga.

PEN International will honour the Zimbabwean author Tsitsi Dangarembga with the PEN Award for Freedom of Expression. The award “is given in recognition of writers’ significant contribution 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.” It was previously known as the Oxfam Novib/PEN Award for Freedom of Expression.

“I am deeply grateful for the honour and the recognition,” Dangarembga wrote on Twitter.

She will receive the award on 13 January, during the opening night of the to-be-live-streamed Winternachten International Literature Festival. At the event, she will, alongside other authors, speak on the theme of the day: “It’s up to us”; and how it relates to her as an author and citizen of Zimbabwe.

Dangarembga’s novel This Mournable Body, the conclusion to her Zimbabwe-set trilogy, was shortlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize. On 31 July 2020, three days after the novel was longlisted, she was peacefully protesting when plain-clothed police officers arrested her without stating the charge. She was arraigned in court where she was charged with incitement to commit violence and breaching anti-coronavirus health regulations. She was released on bail, had her passport seized, and ordered to “report to a police station every week until her next appearance in court.”

Before her arrest, she wrote on Twitter: “Friends, here is a principle. If you want your suffering to end, you have to act. Action comes from hope. This the principle of faith and action.”

Last year’s winner of the PEN Award for Freedom of Expression is Dr. Stella Nyanzi, the Ugandan scholar, writer and feminist activist. In November 2018, she was given an 18-month sentence for “cyber harassment,” after a poem she wrote on Facebook criticising the Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni and his mother. Four weeks after Dr. Nyanzi received the award, a Ugandan high court judge overturned her conviction and sentence and called for her immediate release.

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Other winners of the award include the Cameroonian writer and activist Enoh Meyomesse, the Eritrean poet Amanuel Asrat, the Gambian journalist and activist Fatou Jaw-Manneh, and the Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexievich.

In December 2020, Tsitsi Dangarembga was on the cover of Open Country Mag. Our cover story traces her early days from her first novel Nervous Conditions, her foray into filmmaking, her challenges as a writer, to the career rejuvenation that is her Booker Prize-shortlisted novel and her place in the African literary canon.

Uzoma Ihejirika
Uzoma Ihejirika is a staff writer at Open Country Mag. He is a staff writer at Folio Nigeria. He is an editor for the AfroAnthology Series and a copy editor for Minority Africa. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming on Lolwe, Music in Africa, and Bakwa Magazine, and can also be found on Medium.

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