In London, the PEN Pinter Prize Goes to Michael Rosen

In News by Porter Anderson

Michael Rosen wins the PEN Pinter Prize for his ‘ability to address the most serious matters of life in a spirit of joy, humor, and hope.’

Michael Rosen. Image: Helen Weinstein, HistoryWorks, provided by English PEN

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Rosen: ‘ The Injustice That the Writers Expose’
Following last year’s win by Malorie Blackman of English PEN’s Pinter Prize, it’s been announced today (June 28) in London that the honor this year has gone to writer and poet Michael Rosen.

The award will be given to Rosen at the British Library on October 11 in a ceremony at which he’s to deliver an address. Each year, the Pinter Prize winner is asked to choose a “Writer of Courage” as a kind of companion award, and Rosen is to announce his choice at that event in October. (In 2022, Blackman chose Abduljalil Al-Singace, the Bahraini academic and activist, as her Writer of Courage.)

The three jurors making this year’s selection of Rosen are:

  • Ruth Borthwick, English PEN’s chair
  • The educator and writer Raymond Antrobus
  • Amber Massie-Blomfield, the executive director of the British touring theater ensemble Complicité

Rosen is said to have written some 140 books, and is a children’s author, political columnist, and broadcaster. Like Blackman, he’s a former Children’s Laureate of the United Kingdom, and last year had the unusual distinction of being given an honorary fellowship by the Royal College of Nursing, citing his experience, patient advocacy, and work in raising public awareness of COVID-19.

Ruth Borthwick

Borthwick, commenting on the rationale behind Rosen’s selection, says, “Michael Rosen is one of our most tenacious and fearless writers. He’s one of our most significant contemporary poets writing for young people.

“In more than 140 books, he has championed a way of writing for children that reflects their everyday worlds, using humor and wordplay to validate their imaginative ways of thinking and being, and which has informed his succinct interventions into the lifeless way that children are taught literacy in schools. Even COVID-19 couldn’t silence him.”

Raymond Antrobus

Antrobus, in his juror’s comment, calls Rosen a “poet, survivor, storyteller, educator, broadcaster, former children’s laureate, passionate linguist, gifted humanist, national treasure, and ambassador of gibberish.

“Rosen‘s remarkable and incontestable impact on English language, literature, and literacy is singular and worthy of momentous rewards.”

Amber Massie-Blomfield

And Massie-Blomfield says, “Michael Rosen has a rare, invaluable gift: the ability to address the most serious matters of life in a spirit of joy, humor, and hope.

Fearless in holding power to account, his work is nevertheless a lesson in humanity, and how in times of vulnerability we may discover the best version of ourselves.

“What a role model for the many millions of children whose worlds he has had a hand in shaping–and for their grown-ups too. We need more like him.”

In accepting the award, Rosen is quoted, saying, “I feel greatly honored to have been offered the PEN Pinter Prize. I

“It immediately brings to mind the many people all over the world incarcerated, tortured, or executed for being brave enough to write about what they perceive to be injustice.

Michael Rosen’s ‘The Big Dreaming,’ with illustrations by Daniel Egnéus, is scheduled to be published by Bloomsbury on October 26

“We might say that such punishments serve to prove the injustice that the writers expose, or to show the weakness of the regimes who’ve inflicted these cruelties, but nevertheless, the pain and suffering is all too real and ever-present.

“There is also a more personal reason for me to feel honored to receive the prize: I have been a huge admirer of Harold Pinter’s work since I was a teenager and was fortunate to meet him on some occasions when he too spoke about injustice.”

As Publishing Perspectives readers know, the Pinter Prize was created in 2009 by English PEN, in memory of playwright Harold Pinter (1930-2008). Pinter was a vice-president of English PEN.

The award named for Pinter is devised to recognize “a writer of outstanding literary merit resident in the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, or the Commonwealth who, in the words of Harold 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.'”

Past winners of the PEN Pinter Prize
  • Malorie Blackman (2022)
  • Tsitsi Dangarembga (2021)
  • Linton Kwesi Johnson (2020)
  • Lemn Sissay (2019)
  • Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie (2018)
  • Michael Longley (2017)
  • Margaret Atwood (2016)
  • James Fenton (2015)
  • Salman Rushdie (2014)
  • Tom Stoppard (2013)
  • Carol Ann Duffy (2012)
  • David Hare (2011)
  • Hanif Kureishi (2010)
  • Tony Harrison (2009)
Former International Writers of Courage
  • Abduljalil Al-Singace (2022)
  • Kakwenza Rukirabashaija (2021)
  • Amanuel Asrat (2020)
  • Befeqadu Hailu (2019)
  • Waleed Abulkhair (2018)
  • Mahvash Sabet (2017)
  • 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) 
  • Zarganar (Maung Thura) (2009)

More from Publishing Perspectives on children’s and YA books is here, more on the work of Malorie Blackman is here, more on the PEN Pinter Prize is here, more from us on publishing and book awards programs is here, and more on the United Kingdom’s market is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.