Michael Longley is awarded PEN Pinter Prize
Judges praise poet’s ‘effortlessly lyric and fluent poetry… wholly suffused with humanity, humility and compassion’
Michael Longley: “Harold Pinter encouraged me in my youth. So, for personal as well as literary and political reasons I am moved and honoured by this award.” Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons
Poet and academic Michael Longley has won the PEN Pinter Prize 2017. This year’s judges were Maureen Freely, president of English PEN; Antonia Fraser, historian, biographer and widow of Harold Pinter; Tom Gatti, culture editor of the New Statesman; award-winning poet Don Paterson and playwright Polly Stenham. He will receive the award at a public ceremony at the British Library on October 10th, where he will deliver an address.
Paterson said: “Michael Longley is an ideal recipient of the Pinter Prize. For decades now his effortlessly lyric and fluent poetry has been wholly suffused with the qualities of humanity, humility and compassion, never shying away from the moral complexity that comes from seeing both sides of an argument.Longley is a war poet and a love poet, a nature poet and a poet of the arts, a poet of social and cultural history. Whether writing as a celebrant, critic, memoirist or elegist, he has precisely the “unswerving gaze” Pinter called for, one often fixed on figures in the margins and shadows whose lives are often left untroubled by literary description, but who, Longley insistently reminds us, have their own heroism, tragedy and nobility, and whose stories reveal the ‘real truth of our lives.’.”
Longley said: “Harold Pinter was a great playwright. I have loved and admired his work for many years. He was also a fearless and inspired custodian of English PEN’s ideals: personal liberty and freedom of expression. I might add that Harold Pinter encouraged me in my youth. So, for personal as well as literary and political reasons I am moved and honoured by this award.”
The PEN Pinter Prize was established in 2009 by the charity English PEN, which defends freedom of expression and promotes literature, in memory of Nobel laureate playwright Harold Pinter. The prize is awarded annually to a writer of outstanding literary merit from Britain, the Republic of Ireland or the Commonwealth who, in the words of Pinter’s Nobel Prize in Literature speech, 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”.
Antonia Fraser said: “Michael Longley is a worthy winner of the PEN Pinter Prize. Harold always had a deep admiration for his poetry and after a memorable visit to Northern Ireland under his tutelage, he added to it personal affection.”
Jo Glanville, director of English PEN, said: “The PEN Pinter Prize recognises outstanding authors who exemplify Pinter’s vision of a writer’s obligations as an artist. It’s the highest award English PEN can bestow, celebrating not only the winner’s significant literary achievement, but their role in illuminating the substance of life and politics.”
As well as delivering the address at the British Library event in October, Michael Longley will announce his co-winner, the International Writer of Courage 2017, selected from a shortlist of international cases supported by English PEN. The recipient will be an international writer who is active in defence of freedom of expression, often at great risk to their own safety and liberty. The PEN Pinter Prize 2016 was awarded to Margaret Atwood, who shared the prize with Bangladeshi publisher Ahmedur Rashid Chowdhury a.k.a. Tutul .
A limited edition booklet of Michael Longley’s British Library address will be published by Faber & Faber and available to the audience at the event. Tickets will be on sale soon at www.bl.uk.
Former winners of the PEN Pinter Prize are: Margaret Atwood (2016), James Fenton (2015), Salman Rushdie (2014), Tom Stoppard (2013), Carol Ann Duffy (2012), David Hare (2011), Hanif Kureishi (2010) and Tony Harrison (2009). Former International Writers of Courage have been: Ahmedur Rashid Chowdhury a.k.a.Tutul (2016), Raif Badawi (2015), Mazen Darwish (2014), Iryna Khalip (2013), Samar Yazbek (2012), Roberto Saviano (2011), Lydia Cacho (2010) and Zarganar (Maung Thura) (2009).
Longley was born in Belfast in 1939 and educated at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution and Trinity College Dublin where he read Classics. He has published ten collections of poetry including Gorse Fires (1991) which won the Whitbread Poetry Award, and The Weather in Japan (2000) which won the Hawthornden Prize, the T S Eliot Prize and the Irish Times Poetry Prize. Collected Poems was published in 2006. In 2001 he received the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry and in 2003 he won the Wilfred Owen Award. He was awarded a CBE in 2010. He was Ireland Professor of Poetry from 2007-2010. He and his wife, the critic Edna Longley, live and work in Belfast. His latest work, Angel Hill, is published on June 1st. Rosita Boland’s interview with the author will be published on June 10th in The Irish Times.