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Meena Kandasamy, an Indian Author to Receive the PEN Germany Prize


on Sep 20, 2022
Meena Kandasamy, an Indian Author to Receive the PEN Germany Prize

On Monday, September 19, the Hermann Kesten Prize winners were announced by the PEN Center in Darmstadt, Germany. Meena Kandasamy, an Indian author and poet whose books include "The Gypsy Goddess" (2014) and "When I Hit You: Or, A Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife," receives the award this year (2017). She has also had her poems collected in anthologies, most notably "Ms. Militancy" (2010) and "#ThisPoemWillProvokeYou and Other Poems" (2015).

"Honestly, I'm not sure how to process it," Kandasamy said in a statement shortly after receiving the award.

"Past recipients have included Günter Grass and Harold Pinter, and the weight of what this prize means is still sinking in," she said, adding that she saw the award "not only as an affirmation of what I have done but of the historical responsibility that we all have as progressive writers and artists in India today."

Cornelia Zetzsche, vice president of the German PEN Center, described Kandasamy as "a fearless fighter for democracy and human rights, for free expression, and against the suppression of landless people, minorities, and Dalits in India: not a 'Ms. Pleasant,' but more of a 'Ms. Militancy,' as the title of one of her books suggests." Zetsche was referring to Kandasamy's poetry collection "Ms. Militancy," published in 2011.

Kandasamy was born in 1984 in Chennai to university professor parents. She describes herself as an "anti-caste activist, poet, novelist, and translator" and has been writing poetry since she was a teenager. Her writing, according to her website, aims to deconstruct trauma and violence while highlighting militant resistance to caste, gender, and ethnic oppression.

Kandasamy's novels have been nominated for several awards, including the Women's Prize for Fiction, the International Dylan Thomas Prize, and the Hindu Literary Prize. She was named a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature (RSL) of the United Kingdom earlier this year. In 2021, she also published "The Orders Were to Rape You: Tamil Tigresses in the Eelam Struggle," a collection of essays.

Kandasamy has spoken out against author repression in India, including the arrest of Telugu poet Varavara Rao in 2018 for allegedly inciting caste-based violence. She also spoke out in support of GN Saibaba, a poet and Delhi University professor who is imprisoned for alleged ties to left-wing organizations.

The award will be presented to the Indian author by the PEN Center in Germany on November 15th, this year. The winner will receive €20,000 ($19,996) in prize money. This year, the PEN Center is also honoring the website "Weiter Schreiben" (German for "Keep writing") with a special encouragement award, for providing a platform for authors in exile and writers from conflict zones to express themselves.

The Hermann Kesten Prize honors individuals who, in the spirit of the PEN Association's charter, advocate for the rights of persecuted authors and journalists. Günter Grass, Anna Politkowskaya, Liu Xiaobo, Harold Pinter, and Can Dündar are among the previous recipients.

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