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Malorie Blackman becomes first young adult author to be awarded PEN Pinter Prize

Malorie Blackman has been awarded the PEN Pinter Prize for 2022 (Paul Akinrinlola/PA)
Malorie Blackman has been awarded the PEN Pinter Prize for 2022 (Paul Akinrinlola/PA)

British author Malorie Blackman has become the first children’s and young adult writer to be awarded the PEN Pinter Prize.

The 60-year-old has written more than 70 novels, including the popular Noughts And Crosses series.

The London-born author follows in the footsteps of Tsitsi Dangarembga, Margaret Atwood and Salman Rushdie, all of whom have previously been awarded the annual literary prize, which was launched in 2009 by human rights organisation English PEN.

The award was created in 2009 in memory of Nobel Literature Prize-winning playwright Harold Pinter.

Blackman will receive the prize in a ceremony co-hosted by the British Library in October.

The PEN Pinter Prize will also be shared with an International Writer of Courage – a writer who is active in defence of freedom of expression, often at risk to their own safety.

The co-winner will be selected by Blackman from a shortlist of cases supported by English PEN and the recipient will be announced at the award ceremony in October.

Speaking about winning the award, Blackman said: “I am truly honoured and more than a little stunned to be the recipient of the 2022 PEN Pinter Prize.

“I have long admired Harold Pinter for his courage and dedication to human rights and social justice, and have always believed in the power of the creative arts to connect and communicate with others.

“I especially believe in the power of fiction to shine a spotlight on the truth and feel truly blessed that I predominantly write for the most discerning, honest audience – young adults and children.

“Thank you English PEN for considering me a worthy recipient of this award.”

Blackman, who held the position of Children’s Laureate from 2013 to 2015, was chosen as the PEN Pinter Prize winner by this year’s judging panel – English PEN chairwoman Ruth Borthwick, writer and broadcaster Margaret Busby, and writer and translator Daniel Hahn.

Speaking about the decision, Borthwick said: “This is the first time the PEN Pinter Prize has been awarded to a writer for young people so you’d expect them to be exceptional.

“Malorie Blackman has transformed the world of writing for young adults. Her work never talks down, and her readers have responded by taking her to their hearts.

“Malorie has created dynamic imaginary worlds in which her protagonists are living with and challenging issues of injustice in a way that is totally engaging as she is above all a wonderful storyteller.”

Blackman’s hugely popular young adult Noughts And Crosses novel series was adapted by the BBC, with the second series airing earlier this year, in April.

Noughts + Crosses
Jack Rowan and Masali Baduza in the BBC adaptation of Noughts And Crosses (Ilze Kitshoff/Mammoth Screen/BBC/PA)

The books are set in a society divided by racism, in which Sephy is a Cross, a member of the dark-skinned ruling class, and Callum is a Nought, a “colourless” member of the underclass who were once slaves to the Crosses.

Jack Rowan and Masali Baduza portray the characters of Stephy and Callum in the screen adaptation.

Busby said: “I am delighted to concur with my fellow judges in awarding the 2022 Pinter Prize to Malorie Blackman.

“Her commitment to the fact that young adult reading, as well as exciting the imagination, can shape a lifelong ethical engagement with issues concerning social and political justice – such as racism and cultural difference – is outstanding.

“For more than two decades she has delivered visionary and challenging work that resonates far beyond the written page.”

– Malorie Blackman was made an OBE in 2008 for her services to children’s literature.

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