Linton Kwesi Johnson takes home the PEN Pinter Prize 2020

 Poet and musician, Linton Kwesi Johnson performs at the Witteboom Civic Centre in Wynberg on May 1, 2009 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo by Michelly Rall/WireImage)
Poet and musician, Linton Kwesi Johnson performs at the Witteboom Civic Centre in Wynberg on May 1, 2009 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo by Michelly Rall/WireImage)
Michelly Rall/WireImage
  • Linton Kwesi Johnson follows the likes of Lemn Sissay, Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie and Michael Longley.
  • The poet will receive the award and deliver an address at a digital ceremony that is said to be held in October. 
  • In accepting the prize, Linton Kwesi Johnson said having received the Golden PEN award from English PEN in 2013, he was surprised to learn of another award seven years later.


In memory of Nobel-Laureate playwright Harold Pinter, the English PEN established the PEN Pinter Prize in 2009. Every year since then, the prize is given to a writer (residing in the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland or the Commonwealth) who, in the words of Harold Pinter, casts an “unflinching, unswerving” gaze on the world using their “fierce intellectual determination… to define the real truth of our lives and our societies”.

This year, the PEN Pinter Prize has been awarded to Linton Kwesi Johnson. The poet will receive the award and deliver an address at a digital ceremony that is said to be held in October. Recipients of the prize before Johnson include 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) and Tony Harrison (2009).

As a part of the ceremony in October, Johnson will announce the 2020 International Writer of Courage. According to English PEN’s website, the recipient will be a writer who actively defends freedom of speech and is often at great risk for doing so. Last year’s winner was Befeqadu Hailu, an Ethiopian writer, activist and member of the Zone 9 bloggers, who in 2014 were arrested and charged with terrorism for content published on their blog.

LISTEN: Linton Kwesi Johnson - Sonny's Lettah

This year’s judging panel included The Guardian’s associate editor for culture Claire Armitstead; Dialogue Books publisher Sharmaine Lovegrove and author Max Porter. Speaking about the decision to award Johnson, Armitstead said, “Once we had laid our nominations on the table, it took all of two seconds to agree that we had a clear and outstanding winner for the PEN Pinter Prize 2020. Linton Kwesi Johnson is a poet, reggae icon, academic and campaigner, whose impact on the cultural landscape over the last half century has been colossal and multi-generational. His political ferocity and his tireless scrutiny of history are truly Pinteresque, as is the humour with which he pursues them.”

In accepting the prize, Linton Kwesi Johnson said having received the Golden PEN award from English PEN in 2013, he was surprised to learn of another award seven years later. He then went on to add how “Awards are the nourishment of every artist’s ego. It is always nice to be acknowledged. It is especially gratifying to receive an award that honours the memory of esteemed dramatist, Harold Pinter, free thinker, anti-imperialist and human rights champion.”