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Nicaragua’s Gioconda Belli wins prize for free speech activism

The German PEN Center has awarded the ex-Sandinista revolutionary the 2018 Hermann Kesten Prize for defending freedom of speech. One of Latin America’s most important writers, Belli is a critic of the Ortega government.

Nicaraguan author Gioconda Belli

Nicaraguan author Gioconda Belli was announced Tuesday as the winner of the Hermann Kesten Prize, a prestigious literary award bestowed every two years by the German chapter of PEN International, a writers association that defends freedom of expression worldwide.

The German PEN Center described Belli as one of Latin America’s most important contemporary authors and “a powerful voice for freedom of speech.”

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The center’s announcement also praised Belli for her activism promoting women’s rights and social justice over decades.

Her poems, semi-autobiographical works and novels celebrate womanhood, feminism, eroticism and political activism. Her debut novel, The Inhabited Woman (1988) is particularly well-known. Her works have been translated into over 15 languages.

Belli is also the president of Nicaragua’s PEN chapter.


Belli’s books are read worldwide
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Former Revolutionary and Ortega critic


Born in 1948, Belli joined the Sandinista resistance movement in the 1970s as it fought against the dictatorship of Anastasio Samoza, during which time she was exiled to Mexico.

Today, she is an outspoken critic of the increasingly dictatorial government of President Daniel Ortega, a former Sandinista fighter himself, whose violent repression of protests in Nicaragua has drawn international condemnation.

The German PEN committee said that Belli has tirelessly criticized the current repression of free speech in Nicaragua while at the same time supporting dialogue to end the conflict.

The Hermann Kesten Prize will be given to Belli in a ceremony in the German city of Darmstadt on November 15, along with €10,000 ($11,600) in prize money.

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The Hungarian online magazine Direkt36 will receive €3,000 as the winner of the Hermann Kesten Encouragement Award.

Fighting for persecuted writers

The Hermann Kesten Prize is named after the former German novelist and West German PEN president, who lived from 1900-1996. In accordance with the principles of the PEN international charter, it is awarded every other year to a person who has campaigned notably for persecuted and imprisoned writers and journalists.

Former prize recipients include German Nobel Prize in Literature winner Günter Grass (1995) and Chinese writer and activist Liu Xiaobo (2010).

kk (cmb/rf)/ (KNA, German Pen Center)

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