Lemn Sissay, who was an official poet for the London 2012 Olympics, has been awarded this year’s Pen Pinter prize.
The award, which champions free speech, was established in 2009 by writers’ charity English Pen in memory of playwright Harold Pinter.
Sissay grew up in care and has spoken about how he was bullied and physically abused by staff.
He has also made documentaries about the search for his family and wrote a poem for the FA Cup.
Sissay, who is now 52, said: “I met Harold Pinter when I was 36. We were on stage at The Royal Court. I was too intimidated or self-conscious to speak to him. And so I will now. Thank you.
“What I like about this award is that it is from a great writer and a great organisation. I accept it as a sign that I should continue. All I have is what I leave behind. All I am is what I do.”
Chair of the judges, Maureen Freely, said: “In his every work, Lemn Sissay returns to the underworld he inhabited as an unclaimed child.
“From his sorrows, he forges beautiful words and a thousand reasons to live and love. On the page and on the stage, online or at the Foundling Museum, this is an Orpheus who never stops singing.”
Sissay will receive the award at a public ceremony at the British Library on the 10 October.
He has read on stages around the world including at the Library of Congress in the US, Wembley Stadium and the Botanic Gardens of Singapore.
He was awarded an MBE for services to literature and is chancellor of the University of Manchester.
Previous winners of the award include Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie, Margaret Atwood, Salman Rushdie, Tom Stoppard, Carol Ann Duffy and Hanif Kureishi.
Lemn’s memoir, My Name is Why, will be published by Canongate on 29 August.