Chennai-born Meena Kandasamy receives the Hermann Kesten award

Award recognizes her work on themes of caste, gender and ethnic oppressions

September 21, 2022 01:12 am | Updated October 29, 2022 11:32 am IST - CHENNAI

Meena Kandasamy

Meena Kandasamy

Meena Kandasamy, Chennai-born anti-caste activist, novelist and poet, has been named as this year’s recipient of the Hermann Kesten award, which recognizes her work on the themes of caste, gender and ethnic oppressions. She has used both poetry and prose and has been shortlisted for various literary awards, such as the Hindu Lit Prize and the Women’s Prize for Fiction.

Speaking to The Hindu, Ms. Kandasamy expressed her gratitude towards PEN as this award comes at a time when the political climate nationally and internationally is tense. “I didn’t even know that I was being considered for the award so it was a very out-of-the-blue phone call that I received from PEN”, says Ms. Kandasamy.

Despite her anti-establishment stance, she notes that this prize comes from a place that speaks out for the freedom of others, aligning with her work. According to her, this is a moment that breaks the inertia of fear of speaking out at a time when many are being imprisoned for their speech.

Ms. Kandasamy joins a list of notable personalities, such as Günter Grass and Harold Pinter, who have been seen by PEN as defenders of free speech. Referencing Ms. Kandasamy’s book of poems Ms. Militancy, the vice-president of the German PEN Centre called her “a fearless fighter for democracy and human rights”, making her a ‘Ms. Militant’.

Both of Ms. Kandasamy’s books on poems have been translated into German. “I have more books in German than in Tamil even!” she exclaims.

The Hermann Kesten Award, given by the German chapter of PEN, awarded its first medal in 1985 on the occasion of the 85th birthday of their honorary president, Dr. Hermann Kesten. Since then, it has awarded personalities whose efforts have supported persecuted writers. Until 1993, the medal was given every two years after which it became an annual award. In 2008, it was renamed the Hermann Kesten Award.

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