Pioneering 'dub poet' joins previous winners including Harold Pinter, JG Ballard and Doris Lessing
Father of dub poetry Linton Kwesi Johnson will join names including Harold Pinter, JG Ballard and Doris Lessing as winner of the Golden PEN award, for a lifetime's distinguished service to literature.
Known for his controversial poem "Inglan Is A Bitch", and for "Di Great Insohreckshan", a response to the 1981 Brixton riots in which he stated "It is noh mistri / we mekkin histri", Johnson writes what he calls "dub poetry", a blend of reggae music and verse written in a Jamaican-London vernacular. Often performing with the Dennis Bovell Dub Band, he has been writing and performing since the mid-1970s. In 2002, he was the second living poet, and the only black poet, to be included in the Penguin Modern Classic Series.
Johnson was chosen by the trustees of English PEN to receive the honour. President and author Gillian Slovo described him as "an artistic innovator, a ground-breaker who has used poetry to talk politics and who first gave voice to, and who continues to give voice to, the experience of moving country and of living in this one".
Johnson himself said he was "surprised and humbled" to win the prize, because his poetry is from the "little tradition" of Caribbean verse. "I hope that by conferring on me this award, English PEN will involve more black writers in its important work and that more black writers will support English PEN," he said.