Tsitsi Dangarembga to receive the 2021 Peace Prize of the German Book Trade

© Mateusz Żaboklicki

The Board of Trustees of the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade has chosen the Zimbabwean author and filmmaker Tsitsi Dangarembga as the recipient of this year’s Peace Prize. The announcement was made today by Karin Schmidt-Friderichs, president of the German Publishers and Booksellers Association (Börsenverein) and chairperson of the Board of Trustees.

The Board of Trustees issued the following statement with regard to their choice: “Zimbabwean novelist and filmmaker Tsitsi Dangarembga combines inimitable storytelling with a universally compelling perspective in a body of work that has made her not only one of the most important artists in her native land but also a popular and widely-recognised voice of Africa in contemporary literature. In her acclaimed trilogy of novels, Tsitsi Dangarembga draws on the story of a young woman’s life from adolescence to middle age to depict the struggle for the right to live in dignity and the fight for female self-determination in Zimbabwe. In doing so, she reveals social and moral conflicts that go far beyond regional references, thereby creating the stage for the discussion of globally relevant questions of justice. In her films, she addresses issues that emerge from the clash of tradition and modernity. The messages she sends out via her work have successfully reached broad audiences both in Zimbabwe and neighbouring countries. Tsitsi Dangarembga has long since complemented her artistic work with a rigorous commitment to fostering creative industries in her home country and, in particular, opening up culture to female creators. At the same time, she has also fought tirelessly for civil liberties and political change in Zimbabwe. Her most recent peaceful protest is aimed at corruption, and she has already faced prosecution by the government for her efforts. ‘If you want your suffering to end, you have to act. Action comes from hope. This is the principle of faith and action’”.

Tsitsi Dangarembga was born on 14 February 1959 in Mutoko, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and today is among the most important authors, playwrights and filmmakers in her country. In the 1980s, she studied psychology at the University of Zimbabwe and began writing her first theatre plays. Her debut novel Nervous Conditions was published in 1988 as the first instalment in an autobiographical trilogy. It was followed by The Book of Not in 2006 and This Mournable Body in 2018. These three internationally successful novels tell the story of a young woman striving for self-determination in Zimbabwe from adolescence to middle age, with each part expertly illustrating the complex mechanisms of oppression associated with gender, colonialism and racism. Nervous Conditions, which appeared in German translation under the title Aufbrechen in 2019, was awarded the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in 1989. In 2018, it was included on the BBC’S list of the top 100 most important books that have shaped the world. This Mournable Body, which will appear in German translation under the title Überleben in September 2021, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2020.

In the 1990s, Tsitsi Dangarembga turned her attention to the medium of film. From 1989 to 1996, she studied directing at the German Film and Television Academy Berlin (DFFB). In 1992, she founded the film production company Nyerai Films in Harare, which she still heads up to this day. She also writes screenplays and directs feature films and documentaries, many of which are among Zimbabwe’s most popular, including the film Neria (1993). In 2000, she returned Zimbabwe for good. As initiator of the African Women Filmmakers Hub and founding director of the Institute of Creative Arts for Progress in Africa, she works tirelessly to foster the sustainability of the creative industries in her region and especially to support the work of women.

Tsitsi Dangarembga has been a highly committed activist for feminist causes and political change in Zimbabwe for many years. In July 2020, after calling on her fellow citizens to participate in an anti-corruption demonstration, she was detained for a short time and released on parole. In 2021, she received the PEN Pinter Prize as well as the PEN International Award for Freedom of Expression, which honours writers who continue their writing in the face of persecution. Tsitsi Dangarembga lives in Harare with her husband Olaf Koschke. Their three children are studying abroad.

The Board of Trustees is made up of Klaus Brinkbäumer, Prof. Dr. Peter Dabrock, Prof. Dr. Raphael Gross, Prof. Dr. Moritz Helmstaedter, Dr. Nadja Kneissler, Felicitas von Lovenberg, Prof. Dr. Ethel Matala de Mazza, Prof. Bascha Mika and Karin Schmidt-Friderichs.

The award ceremony will take place on Sunday 24 October 2021 at the Church of St. Paul in Frankfurt am Main. The event will be organised in compliance with any applicable health regulations in place at that time. The ceremony will be broadcast live on German public television (ZDF) at 11 am. The Peace Prize has been awarded since 1950 and is endowed with a sum of €25,000.

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