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

From the privatisation of the railways to the invasion of Iraq, the banking crisis to the British press, the "unflinching, unswerving" gaze which radical playwright David Hare has trained upon the world over the last 40 years is to be honoured with the PEN/Pinter prize.

Established by writers' organisation PEN two years ago to celebrate the late Harold Pinter, the prize is given to a British writer of outstanding literary merit who, in the words of Pinter himself on winning the Nobel prize in 2005, 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". Pinter's widow Lady Antonia Fraser, who selected Hare as this year's recipient along with judges Gillian Slovo, Claire Tomalin, Michael Billington and last year's winner the novelist Hanif Kureishi, called him "a worthy winner".

Fraser said: "In the course of his long, distinguished career, David Hare has never failed to speak out fearlessly on the subject of politics in the broadest sense; this courage, combined with his rich creative talent, makes him a worthy winner of the PEN/Pinter prize". Billington commented: "David Hare was a perfect choice for this award. He has addressed the big public issues over the past four decades with great rigour and wit, is a first-rate dramatist, and embodies the spirit of an award that celebrates both Harold Pinter's and PEN's tireless campaign against injustice.".

PEN pointed to the writer's "notable" plays Plenty, set in postwar Britain and told through the eyes of a diplomat's wife, The Absence of War, about the Anglican church, the legal system and the Labour party, and The Blue Room, a series of sexual sketches, as well as to Stuff Happens, about the Iraq war. "'Are you the person who makes plays out of what's going on in the papers?' is never a question asked in a friendly manner. Nor is the answer much liked. 'Yes. Somebody has to'," Hare said in a lecture given at the Royal Society of Literature last year.

Knighted in 1998, Hare is also a theatre and film director, winning a Bafta and an Olivier award. Pinter himself said of Hare's play The Permanent Way, an exploration of the privatisation of British Rail, that "Hare's going great guns and shows a steely compassion for the people he's dealing with".

The admiration is mutual: Hare is a great devotee of the poet and playwright Pinter, who died in 2008, writing in the Guardian after Pinter won his Nobel that "for almost 20 years now, Harold has been – often at considerable personal cost – the most prominent spokesperson in this country for those who are the hapless victims of belligerence and oppression. Like Arundhati Roy, he has worked to begin to redefine the idea of what, in uniquely dangerous times, we may expect an artist to be. In doing so, he has blown fresh air into the musty attic of conventional British literature". Now Hare is being honoured for following in Pinter's footsteps.

The £1,000 PEN/Pinter prize, won by Kureishi and in its inaugural year by the poet and playwright Tony Harrison, is shared with an imprisoned writer who has been persecuted for speaking out about their beliefs. This year's writer will be chosen by PEN's Writers in Prison Committee, in association with Hare, and will be announced at the prize's award ceremony on 10 October at the British Library, where the playwright will make a speech.

Pinter, a vice president of English PEN, visited Turkey in 1985 with Arthur Miller on behalf of the Writers in Prison committee. The pair were escorted on their travels by Pinter's fellow Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk.


Alison Flood

The GuardianTramp

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