Zimbabwean Novelist Tsitsi Dangarembga Takes Home the Pen Pinter Prize

Written by on 18/06/2021

Zimbabwean Author Tsitsi Dangarembga was announced as the winner for this year’s Pen Prize. The award is hosted by the British Library and English Pen, in memory of honour of the late Nobel Literature Prize-winning playwright Harold Pinter.

Remarkably, Dangarembga wrote her first novel, Nervous Conditions, at the age of 25 and it went to win the African section of the Commonwealth Writers Prize in 1989, it was also notably the first book to be published in English by a Black woman from Zimbabwe. As well as a litany of other great work, her latest book This Mournable Body was shortlisted for the Booker Prize last year, in 2020.

The writer and film director was born in Mutoko town in the north-east of Zimbabwe when it was under white-minority rule. Her early life saw Dangarembga studying in elite, albeit predominantly white girls’ schools up until her A Levels in Zimbabwe, and then completing her degree at Cambridge University where she experienced racism, eventually returning in to Zimbabwe in 1980, 3 months before the country’s independence.

Her writing, one could argue, draws similarities between her upbringing and the everyday struggles and experiences of the modern day Zimbabwean. Dangarembga’s ‘This Mournable Body’ is a sequel to Nervous Conditions, and, according to the Booker Prize, “channels the hope and potential of one young girl and a fledgling nation to lead us on a journey to discover where lives go after hope has departed”. Each piece of work, subtly denouncing the excesses of the upper class that may have once ruled the land.

Other award-winning credits to her name include Neria, Zimbabwe’s most successful and highest grossing film, released in 1993, a poetic and timeless depiction of the Zimbabwe many locals experience.

As a female writer, having come from a climate where learning and education were once reserved for the elite and considered a luxury, this is a triumph for both writer and nation.

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