Margaret Atwood wins 2016 PEN Pinter prize

Canadian author says she is humbled to accept reward and is praised by judges for championing environmental and human rights causes

Margaret Atwood has said that she is humbled to win an award from PEN celebrating her political activism, describing herself as “a stand-in for the thousands of people around the world who speak and act against [human rights] abuses”.

The PEN Pinter prize was set up seven years ago in memory of the Nobel prize-winning playwright Harold Pinter, and is given to a writer of outstanding literary merit who, in the words of Pinter himself on winning the Nobel, 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 Booker prize-winning Canadian author was picked by a judging panel chaired by Maureen Freely, who said: “In a profession dominated by careerists who are content to tend to their own gardens, Margaret Atwood is the shining exception.

“She does not just stand up for her principles: in novel after novel, she has put them to the test. What she does as a campaigner has only served to deepen her work as a writer of fiction. She is an inspiration to us all,” said Freely.

Antonia Fraser said her late husband ‘admired Margaret Atwood in three ways: as a writer, a campaigner and a person’.
Antonia Fraser said her late husband ‘admired Margaret Atwood in three ways: as a writer, a campaigner and a person’. Photograph: Murdo Macleod/The Guardian

Atwood, who was praised by judges as an “exemplary public intellectual” and “consistent supporter of political causes” whose “work championing environmental concerns comes well within the scope of human rights”, said she knew Harold Pinter personally, and that she was humbled to win a prize in his name.

“I knew Harold Pinter and worked with him – he wrote the scenario for the film version of The Handmaid’s Tale, back in 1989 – and his burning sense of injustice at human rights abuses and the repression of artists was impressive even then,” said Atwood. “Any winner of such an award is a stand-in for the thousands of people around the world who speak and act against such abuses. I am honoured to be this year’s stand-in.”

Pinter’s widow, the writer Antonia Fraser, said that her late husband “admired Margaret Atwood in three ways: as a writer, a campaigner and a person”, and that “he would be especially delighted by her generous response to this award”. Fraser joined Freely on the judging panel for the award, alongside fellow judges Vicky Featherstone, Zia Haider Rahman and Peter Stothard.

Atwood will now choose a co-winner of the prize, the 2016 International Writer of Courage, who will be revealed at an event at the British Library in October. The winner, said PEN, would be an international writer “who is active in defence of freedom of expression, often at great risk to their own safety and liberty”, with previous recipients including Gomorrah author Roberto Saviano, Mexican journalist Lydia Cacho and the imprisoned Saudi blogger Raif Badawi.

Atwood will tour the UK in October and November for her latest book Hag-Seed, a re-telling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. The nine-date tour will include a talk at the RSC Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford upon Avon.

Contributor

Alison Flood

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Margaret Atwood selects Tutul for Pen writer of courage award
Atwood praises the ‘huge personal courage’ of the Bangladeshi publisher, who survived a machete attack by Islamic extremists and still won’t be silenced

Alison Flood

13, Oct, 2016 @5:30 PM

Article image
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie wins PEN Pinter prize
Nigerian author wins award in memory of the late Nobel laureate for her ‘refusal to be deterred or detained by the categories of others’

Alison Flood

12, Jun, 2018 @9:47 AM

Article image
Michael Longley wins PEN Pinter prize for 'unflinching, unswerving' poetry
Northern Irish writer praised by judges for his ‘fierce intellectual determination’ wins annual award in memory of the late Nobel laureate

Danuta Kean

01, Jun, 2017 @5:01 AM

Article image
Margaret Atwood and JM Coetzee demand release of jailed Iranian writers
A letter by PEN America, signed by dozens of high-profile writers and artistic figures, calls for Baktash Abtin, Keyvan Bajan, and Reza Khandan Mahabadi to be acquitted

Alison Flood

29, Sep, 2021 @4:17 PM

Article image
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie accepts PEN Pinter prize with call to speak out
Arguing that authors have a duty to ‘call a lie a lie’, novelist also names human rights activist Waleed Abulkhair as the 2018 International Writer of Courage

Alison Flood

09, Oct, 2018 @7:02 PM

Article image
Fiction prize renamed in honour of Margaret Atwood and late partner Graeme Gibson
The Writers’ Trust of Canada has relaunched its annual fiction award as the Atwood Gibson prize, which Atwood says would have left him ‘very tickled’

Alison Flood

27, Jan, 2021 @3:50 PM

Article image
Salman Rushdie and Margaret Atwood lead campaign for displaced writers
The two novelists are among 200 writers and artists backing PEN International’s three-year plan to promote work by censored and persecuted people

Danuta Kean

31, May, 2017 @8:37 AM

Article image
'Living legend' Linton Kwesi Johnson wins PEN Pinter prize
The pioneer of dub poetry has been hailed for his ‘political ferocity’ and ‘tireless scrutiny of history’

Alison Flood

07, Jul, 2020 @9:59 AM

Article image
Salman Rushdie wins PEN Pinter prize

'It's very moving to receive an award named after my friend,' says writer ahead of presentation at British Library in October

Mark Brown

19, Jun, 2014 @11:01 PM

Article image
David Hare wins PEN/Pinter prize
Playwright David Hare declared 'a worthy winner' of prize established by English PEN to celebrate the late Harold Pinter

Alison Flood

26, Aug, 2011 @4:30 PM