Dayton Literary Peace Prize

2016 Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke
Distinguished Achievement Award

Marilynne Robinson

“I have had the privilege of seeing for myself how books live in the world, how readily they can cross all sorts of borders and boundaries, how important they are in sustaining a human conversation through and despite the frictions that arise among nations, how intensely they can be taken to heart anywhere. It is certainly appropriate that a literary prize should also be a peace prize, and that writers themselves should be made aware of their unique opportunity to speak to an international readership, an opportunity created by the interest and quality and commitment to truth of the literary work of generations.”

— Marilynne Robinson                        

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Marilynne Robinson is the recipient of a 2012 National Humanities Medal, awarded by President Barack Obama, for “her grace and intelligence in writing.” She is the author of Lila, a finalist for the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award, Gilead, winner of the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Critics Circle Award, and Home, winner of the Orange Prize and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and a finalist for the National Book Award. Her first novel, Housekeeping, won the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award. Robinson’s nonfiction books include The Givenness of Things, When I Was a Child I Read Books, Absence of Mind, The Death of Adam, and Mother Country, which was nominated for a National Book Award. She teaches at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop and lives in Iowa City.

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Book Excerpt

I told you last night that I might be gone sometime, and you said, Where, and I said, To be with the Good Lord, and you said, Why, and I said, Because I’m old, and you said, I don’t think you’re old. And you put your hand in my hand and you said, You aren’t very old, as if that settled it. I told you you might have a very different life from mine, and from the life you’ve had with me and that would be a wonderful thing, there are many ways to live a good life. And you said, Mama already told me that. And then you said, Don’t laugh! because you thought I was laughing at you. You reached up and put your fingers on my lips and gave me that look I never in my life saw on any other face besides your mother’s. It’s a kind of furious pride, very passionate and stern. I’m always a little surprised to find my eyebrows unsinged after I’ve suffered one of those looks. I will miss them. 

It seems ridiculous to suppose the dead miss anything. If you’re a grown man when you read this–it is my intention for this letter that you will read it then–I’ll have been gone a long time. I’ll know most of what there is to know about being dead, but I’ll probably keep it to myself. That seems to be the way of things. 

I don’t know how many times people have asked me what death is like, sometimes when they were only an hour or two from finding out for themselves. Even when I was a very young man, people as old as I am now would ask me, hold on to my hands and look into my eyes with their old milky eyes, as if they knew I knew and they were going to make me tell them. I used to say it was like going home. We have no home in this world, I used to say, and then I’d walk back up the road to this old place and make myself a pot of coffee and a friend-egg sandwich and listen to the radio, when I got one, in the dark as often as not. Do you remember this house? I think you must, a little. I grew up in parsonages. I’ve lived in this one most of my life, and I’ve visited in a good many others, because my father’s friends and most of our relatives also lived in parsonages. And when I thought about it in those days, which wasn’t too often, I thought this was the worst of them all, the draftiest and the dreariest. Well, that was my state of mind at the time. It’s a perfectly good old house, but I was all alone in it then. And that made it seem strange to me. I didn’t feel very much at home in the world, that was a face. Now I do.


Marilynne Robinson is the author of four exquisite novels and five nonfiction works collecting lectures and essays previously published in such eminent journals of ideas as The New York Review of Books, The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Nation, Harper’s, and The Christian Century. The essays are earnest, learned, knotted, and closely reasoned, springing from Robinson’s deeply considered, radically democratic Calvinism. They read like a cross between humanist homiletics and sharp cultural criticism. To read them is to feel the author’s mind wrestling with the big questions — Grace, Fear, Being — as Jacob wrestled with the angel. The novels, like most of the essays, have one-word titles — Housekeeping, Gilead, Home, and Lila — as though they too name the questions they will take up. But these questions have a more human scale than those of the essays and, as befits novels, pose the questions in terms of personal relationships. Her characters traverse the vast interpersonal spaces between belonging and alienation, most without ever leaving town. Each novel follows a small group of people, the last three centering on essentially the same community of people living in mid-twentieth-century middle-America, and the action is for the most part small: a prodigal returns; an elderly dying man contemplates his life and writes a letter to his son; a homeless young woman finds a home; a young woman leaves home and finds her true family. But the issues are big: the wages of America’s original sin of slavery; the care and keeping of the environment; the debt owed our children and their children; the burdens and blessings of reconciliation. On one level Robinson’s fiction itemizes homely local virtues, the sort we have in mind when we speak nostalgically of small-town America or imagine a more innocent, happier past time. But on another level Robinson invites us to contemplate how a virtuous patina permits us to mask our darker selves. Thus the good people of Gilead, the setting for her most recent three novels, hearken back to their town’s abolitionist past but in their present engage in or simply accept the sort of petty acts of passive and not-so-passive racism and sexism that can drive a black or mixed-race family or a single mother from their town. Kindness to neighbors is as good a thing in Robinson’s fictional world as it is on the road to Jericho or on the journey of life. But, she reminds us, only when we grasp the difficult concept that “neighbor” describes all our fellow travelers do we even begin to approach the ideal Good. The novels offer both rebuke and counsel, without being didactic: they are, in fact, full of sensuous pleasures in characterization, description, mood, and voice. Late in 2015, Marilynne Robinson sat down for a lengthy chat with one of her biggest fans, President Barack Obama. Published in two parts in The New York Review of Books, the conversation ranged far and wide, but touched again and again on a deceptively simple shared principle. As Robinson put it, “the basis of democracy is the willingness to assume well about other people. You have to assume that basically people want to do the right thing.” Graceful and accomplished, ethical and humane, Robinson’s writing has for over thirty years reminded, encouraged, pushed, and sometimes prodded readers to do that right thing and, in the process, to become reacquainted with what another U.S. President (who would surely also have admired her work) called “the better angels of our nature.”

—Carol S. Loranger
Chair, Department of English Language and literatures
College of Liberal Arts
Faculty President
Wright State University

Featured in Oprah's Book Club 2021

2016 Fiction Winner

Viet Thanh Nguyen - The Sympathizer

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“As a realist, I don’t believe in peace. As an idealist, I have to believe in it. We live in bloody and fearful times, but I think back to how, only a few millenia before, our human imagination was once limited to our tribe. Realism meant seeing the world only as far as the horizon. Now we can see further, and our imagination extends far beyond the horizon. Perhaps writers have something to do with that expansion of the imagination, which has occurred while we as a species have collectively groped towards the end of war, conflict, violence, and abuse. The role of writers in these half-blind efforts is twofold. We can portray the worst of what human beings do to each other, and in so doing we can remind readers, and ourselves, that inhumanity is a part of humanity. In the face of that cruel truth, we can also imagine the best that humanity is capable of, and in that way provide a vision, a way to overcome the momentum of past conflicts and inherited bitterness, the inertia of accepting our brutality. A strong dose of unsentimental realism, mixed with a touch of wild idealism—that is one way to imagine what I attempted to do through The Sympathizer. I am honored by this prize, which recognizes that in writing about war, I was also hoping for peace.”

— Viet Thanh Nguyen                        


Viet Thanh Nguyen was born in Vietnam and raised in America. His debut novel, The Sympathizer is a New York Times best seller and has won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Other honors include the Edgar Award for Best First Novel from the Mystery Writers of America, the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction from the American Library Association, the First Novel Prize from the Center for Fiction, a Gold Medal in First Fiction from the California Book Awards, and the Asian/Pacific American Literature Award from the Asian/Pacific American Librarian Association. He is the author of two non-fiction titles, Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War and Race and Resistance: Literature and Politics in Asian America. He has also co-edited with Janet Hoskins, a new anthology on Transpacific Studies, a rising academic field that explores connections across and through the Pacific. He teaches English and American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California and currently resides in Los Angeles. His next book is a short story collection, forthcoming in February 2017 from Grove Press.


The philosophy of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds” informs the composition of Viet Thanh Nguyen profoundly instructive novel, which refuses to operate as purely literary or historical fiction, but it must turn into a spy thriller, a political satire, a black comedy of ideas on history, war, race. Jailed by those he has served as a communist sleeper agent in America, the narrator confesses “in a style of his own choosing” what transpired over the course of the fall of Saigon and his relocation to America. This nameless everyman, half-French and half-Vietnamese, whose secret mission to learn “American ways of thinking” first led him to Emerson, employs Emersonian tricks and confesses in an aphoristic, contradictory, capacious fashion, exhaustively cataloguing Vietnamese experience after decades of war and foreign manipulation: “(T)he parade of paupers” outside the Saigon cafes along with “military amputees … elderly beggars … street urchins … young widows and cripples”; the desperate radio chatter as Saigon collapses; the humbling jobs that befall those Vietnamese who reach America and the violent deaths some meet while in exile. There is no safe haven. Nothing is ever purely what it seems, and “the best kind of truth mean(s) at least two things.”

Absurdities abound and never more so than when the narrator serves as a technical consultant to the movie about the Vietnam War. Made in the Philippines with Asian everymen– Vietnamese extras are only employed for background chatter and acting dead. What they say is unimportant but it must sound real. “Dead Vietnamese, take your places!” And so they do: They rise again in this furiously composed novel and demand we reconsider Vietnam and its people “skunked by history.” This necessary fiction, this Emerson-infused enthusiastic work has Whitman’s breadth. The great poet’s wide embrace of all things American is doubled in this powerful American Vietnam War novel with its wide embrace of all things Vietnamese.

— Christine Schutt
2016 finalist judge


Book Excerpt


That house. The ones that came after. He thinks of them, instinctively touching the soil again. All the houses they have lived in, the ibriks and rugs and curtains they have bought; how many windows should any person own? The houses float up to his mind’s eye like jinn, past lovers. The sloping roof of his mother’s hut, the marbled tiles in Salma’s kitchen, the small house he shared with Alia in Nablus. The Kuwait home. The Beirut apartments. This house, here in Amman. For Alia, some old, vanished house in Jaffa. They glitter whitely in his mind, like structures made of salt, before a tidal wave comes and sweeps them away.

“I thought I had more time — ” Manar stops, embarrassed. Atef waits. “To ask her things.”

“About what?”

His granddaughter shrugs. “Her life.”

He can feel their eyes upon him. Poor innocent things, he thinks. What is a life? A series of yeses and noes, photographs you shove in a drawer somewhere, loves you think will save you but that cannot. Continuing to move, enduring, not stopping even when there is pain. That’s all life is, he wants to tell her. It’s continuing.

DLPP 2016 Winner Viet Thanh Nguyen Recognized as MacArthur Fellow

Viet Thanh Nguyen, the 2016 winner of the Dayton Literary Peace Prize for Fiction for his debut novel The Sympathizer has been named one of 2017 MacArthur Foundation Fellows. The Foundation awards unrestricted fellowships to talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction. Learn more.

Community Conversations - The Sympathizer

On October 2, 2017, Wright State University Professor Andrew Strombeck and Dayton City Commissioner Matt Joseph spoke with Author Viet Thanh Nguyen about his novel The Sympathizer. This is part of the Dayton Literary Peace Prize Community Conversations Series. Watch the video.

2016 Fiction Runner-up

James Hannaham - Delicious Foods

“The fastest way to promote peace is to increase empathy. Fiction provides an expressway to empathy by allowing us to enter other people’s minds and understand their experiences, sometimes getting us closer to thinking someone else’s thoughts than we ever believed possible. I am very lucky and proud to have been given the opportunity to invade so many people’s thoughts and hopefully steer them towards a more compassionate and ethical world. Many thanks to the Dayton Literary Peace Prize committee.”

— James Hannaham              

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James Hannaham is the author of the novel God Says No, which was honored by the American Library Association, and Delicious Foods, winner of the 2016 Pen/Faulkner Award for Fiction. He holds an MFA from the Michener Center at the University of Texas at Austin, and lives in Brooklyn, where he teaches creative writing at the Pratt Institute.


Book Excerpt


One day a read-haired girl asked, Hey, mister, how come you have claws?

I had an accident, he told her calmly, though at the same time he remembered every second—the blindfold made with a sweatshirt, the tension in his clenched teeth, the moment when he blacked out from the pain.

Her father stroked the nape of her neck.  Don’t bother the handyman when he’s busy, Viv.

He’s a handyman without hands, Viv observed.

Her father let out a loud, anxious laugh.  Viv giggled, and Eddie turned away from his work for a moment to share their laughter.  As the father laughed, Eddie wondered if the man would hold the comment against his child.  But the tension ebbed, and Eddie leaned down until some flyaway strands of her hair tickled his nose

You know, that’s exactly right, Miss Wilson.  I never thought of it in that way.

Her father made an apologetic mouth.  She’s darn plucky, my Vivian.  I’m sorry, Mr. Hardison.

No need, Eddie said.  That’s a great saying. I’m gonna put that on my business card.  He turned to the girl.  How would you like that?

I guess that would be fine, Vivian said demurely.

Be careful, her father warned him.  This one will want royalties down the line.

The following week, Eddie visited the printer and offered a run of small stiff cards emblazoned with his name and contact information, carrying the girl’s description above it in red, curved like a rainbow over a landscape, and with a river zigzagging through the center.

Handyman Without Hands.


James Hannaham’s Delicious Foods is a tour de force, taking characters who normally occupy the hidden labor that makes so much of American culture possible, and putting them at this novel’s center.

We start with Eddie, a young man escaping an industrial accident after having lost both hands, and the story of how he lost his hands becomes the unlikely story of the death of his father, a community organizer in Louisiana, his mother’s despair turning into an addiction to crack cocaine, and the Delicious Foods of the title is the farm where his mother finds work picking fruit for a high-end gourmet foods supplier. The sections narrated by crack cocaine as a narrator – known in the novel as “Scotty” – bring the novel into the realm of pure genius, and the heartbreak of Eddie’s business card, “Handyman With No Hands”, becomes a rehistory of the American civil rights movement and structural racism. All of this is made possible by allegory, all while remaining resolutely unsentimental.

The result is heartbreaking, breathtaking, riveting and unforgettable, fiction that succeeds as necessary cultural criticism and a page-turner at the same time.

— Alexander Chee
2016 finalist judge

2016 Nonfiction Winner

Susan Southard - Nagasaki: Life After Nuclear War

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“I accept this beautiful award in memory of the hundreds of thousands who died 71 years ago and in the years that followed, and the countless more who faced the acute and long-term terrors of post-nuclear survival. Their day-to-day suffering is still obscured by iconic images of atomic clouds rising over Nagasaki and Hiroshima, or diminished by passionate justifications for using the bombs. Peace is an arduous endeavor and impossible to achieve without a commitment to understanding the grievous harm our actions inflict on others. My deepest gratitude to the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, to the survivors who trusted me with their stories, and to all Nagasaki hibakusha, past and present, who have fervently fought to ensure that Nagasaki remains the last nuclear-bombed city in history.”

— Susan Southard


Susan Southard holds an MFA in creative writing from Antioch University/Los Angeles and was a nonfiction fellow at the Norman Mailer Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts. Nagasaki won the J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize, sponsored by the Neiman Foundation at Harvard University and the Columbia School of Journalism. Southard lives in Tempe, Arizona, where she is the founder and artistic director of Essential Theatre.


Nagasaki: Life After Nuclear War essentially begins where John Hersey’s famous 1946 work Hiroshima ends. Southard benefits from access first and foremost to the survivors she renders with a gentle reverence and sympathy. Americans have largely avoided stories from the point of view of the surviving civilian populations of the only two atomic attacks because of our inward-gazing moral questioning and, redoubling the erasure, because Hiroshima, the first victim, tends to obscure Nagasaki. Southard’s work thus illuminates an absence in our own history. Far beyond a reductionist argument about whether to use nuclear weapons, this is a profound inquiry into the extremes of human violence and what it does to both victim and victimizer. It is essential reading in our hyper-violent time.

The immediate and long-term devastation caused by the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki is almost too horrific to comprehend. By focusing on the life stories of five hibakusha (survivors), Southard provides a multifold way to enter not just into a historical subject but into their subjectivity. A superb researcher, she meticulously gathers medical, historical, scientific, military, religious, and artistic sources to produce a comprehensive account. The narratives are nightmarish, of course, making this a book you scarcely want to read, yet its mature literary voice makes it impossible for the reader to turn away.

There has long been debate in literary and artistic circles about the dilemmas of representing violence and about the potential for “re-victimizing.” (Among works tackling the subject, there is, famously, Susan Sontag’s Regarding the Pain of Others.) Southard does not shirk from graphic details but always avoids the modifiers that would turn an image lurid. Her writing is deeply ethical, ever mindful of context, allowing the voice of the “other” to speak directly to us often in dialogue that includes phrases of transliterated Japanese.

Most of the hibakusha Southard profiles wound up devoting their lives to disarmament and peace, and this is an important, vivid document of the ultimate horror of war and the survivors’ dedication to never letting us forget.

– Ruben Martinez
2016 finalist judges

Listen to Susan Southard's Two Interviews with Vic Mickunas on WYSO's "Book Nook."


Book Excerpt

“Again, Do-oh drifted into unconsciousness. This time she hallucinated, seeing images of herself walking barefoot along an endless path between rice paddies, with vast fields of bright rape blossoms all around. Yellow and white butterflies flew over the meadows. “It was a world where no one goes,” she recalled, “an extremely lonely, isolated world.” In the dream, she sat on a rock. In the distance, an old man in a white kimono beckoned her close to him. As she tried to approach him, another voice awakened her with a small whisper: “Don’t sleep! Don’t sleep!” It was God’s voice, the creator’s voice, Do-oh later believed, calling her back from the edge of death.”

“With few exceptions, [American] news stories out of the atomic-bombed cities were abstract and impersonal, focusing on the rebuilding of the cities, healing and rebirth out of the atomic ashes, and potential reconciliation with the United States that – according to American journalists – many atomic bomb victims desired. Reporters typically referenced the atomic bombings in the context of government calls for heightened civil defense policies, appeals for international control of atomic energy, or praise of U.S. scientific ingenuity and achievement. Photographs of the mushroom clouds become the iconic images of the atomic bombings, with no representation of the hundreds of thousands who died and suffered beneath them.”

“[The hibakusha] chose to relive excruciating memories and exposed themselves to alienation from family members, harsh judgment for publicly airing their anguish, and right-wing Japanese citizens’ untrue labeling of them as liars or communists. Speaking candidly about their personal experiences provided each a unique opportunity to influence a world they saw as both obsessed with nuclear weapons and fundamentally ignorant about their real-life consequences. They were kataribe – storytellers in the centuries-long Japanese tradition by which selected individuals pass on historical information to their fellow citizens and future generations.”

2016 Nonfiction Runner-up

Kennedy Odede & Jessica Posner - Find Me Unafraid

“We are deeply honored to be named recipients of a prize that recognizes the power of the written word to create peace in a world that desperately needs it. Our book, Find Me Unafraid, tells the deeply personal story of struggle, triumph, and of recognition that there is more that connects and binds us, no matter how great our differences, than keeps us apart. Our story shows that through the power of love, the world might know peace, and we are thrilled to be recognized in this way.”

— Jessica Posner & Kennedy Odede            

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Kennedy Odede is one of Africa’s best-known community organizers and social entrepreneurs. He was raised in Kibera, the largest urban slum in Africa, where he experienced the devastating realities of life in extreme poverty and started the Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO) movement. Driven by the innovation and entrepreneurial spirits of the people of Kibera, SHOFCO became the largest grassroots organization in the slum.

Jessica Posner is the co-founder and COO of Shining Hope for Communities. She is a nationally recognized social entrepreneur and activist. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa with honors in African-American Studies from Wesleyan University. She won the 2010 Do Something Award and was named “America’s top-world changer 25 and under” live on VH1. Jess also received the prestigious Echoing Green Fellowship. Jess speaks Swahili and Luo. She splits her time between Nairobi and New York City.


Book Excerpt

“I wanted to believe that there was something out there, something greater than my poverty and my suffering, but every day seemed harder than the one before. … I knew that somewhere in this, there was a choice – I just didn’t know what it was.”

“’Shining Hope for Communities is a powerful name because it’s not only in Kibera where we will provide hope. We are going to shine in other slums too. Let’s start with Kibera, but I believe in the future we’re going to go beyond Kibera to shine hope everywhere. Eventually the world will see the light that was lit in a ghetto house tonight.”

“As he turns off the lights, I feel the crushing weight of the responsibility he carries. I think of what it means to be a teenager in America, necessarily pushing boundaries, making expected mistakes. Here there is no margin for error: a mistake, no matter how insignificant, dashes any small hopes to break the cycle of poverty. Here in Kibera the world is relentless and unforgiving.”


Find Me Unafraid is a protest anthem cloaked in a love song. Kennedy Odede and Jessica Posner, an impoverished black African activist and a privileged white American college student, turn a working relationship into a romance during her semester abroad. But theirs is not a fleeting tryst: Their bond becomes the foundation for a wide-ranging economic empowerment enterprise, Shining Home for Communities. First, violence forces Odede to flee Kenya, and the couple winds up switching places: He’s at Wesleyan, confused by the decadence of workout gyms, and she’s in Kibera, running the school for girls that they have built together. This is problematic territory, but the authors go beyond “love conquers all” platitudes to reveal the ravages of colonialism, the gross inequities of global capitalism, the violence of racial and sexual hatred, and in spite of all, the possibilities and imperative for community-based, well-funded solutions – rooted in basic human understanding.

Odede and Posner are both adept and likable storytellers who are acutely aware of the clichés of cultural tourism and missionary zeal. They take turns telling the story of their courtship and collaboration. Together, they render human and even heroic efforts to bring education, water, medicine, capital, dignity, and hope to the desperately oppressed slum of Kibera. If Africa tends to be rendered in the problematic clichés of celebrity noblesse oblige – the passive victim awaiting our rescue – this book provides a remedy on the most intimate of levels. It also deals honestly with the cultural and political pitfalls of a story about a privileged outsider arriving in a poverty-stricken foreign land. Between them, Kennedy and Jessica know when to allow the other time to speak, and appropriately it is Kennedy’s story that is at the center of the book.

– Evelyn McDonnell
2016 finalist judges

2016 Finalists


A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara (Penguin Random House)

A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara, follows four college classmates—broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition—as they move to New York in search of fame and fortune. While their relationships, which are tinged by addiction, success, and pride, deepen over the decades, the men are held together by their devotion to the brilliant, enigmatic Jude, a man scarred by an unspeakable childhood trauma. A hymn to brotherly bonds and a masterful depiction of love in the twenty-first century, Yanagihara’s stunning novel is about the families we are born into, and those that we make for ourselves.

Delicious Foods by James Hannaham (Little, Brown and Co.)

Delicious Foods, by James Hannaham is an inventive feat of storytelling bravado that captures the pathos and absurdity of addiction . Held captive on a mysterious farm and under the sway of an overpowering addiction, a widow struggles to reunite with her young son in this uniquely American story of freedom, perseverance, and survival. Hannaham’s daring and shape-shifting prose not only infuses the desperate circumstances of his characters with grace and humor, but also wrestles with timeless questions of love and freedom, forgiveness and redemption, tenacity and the will to survive.

Green on Blue by Elliot Ackerman (Scribner)

A stirring debut novel about the harrowing, intractable nature of war, Green on Blue, by Elliot Ackerman, follows a young Afghan orphan as he is forced to join a US-funded militia in order to save his brother, who is hospitalized after an attack on their village. Green on Blue is a gripping, morally complex story about boys caught in an elliptical war, and the sacrifices we make for love. Writing from the Afghan perspective, Ackerman has broken new ground in the literature of our most recent wars, accomplishing an astonishing feat of empathy and imagination.

Orhan’s Inheritance by Aline Ohanestan (Algonquin)

Orhan’s Inheritance by Aline Ohanesian is a remarkable debut novel that moves between 1915 in the Ottoman Empire and the 1990s, pulling back the curtain on a significant and the devastating chapter of history of the Armenian Holocaust that has been silenced for many years. Aline Ohanesian knows this history well: she’s taken her family history as a starting point but breathed into it a novel full of love and heartbreak, war and recovery, crimes and their reparations.

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen (Grove Atlantic)

A profound, startling, and beautifully crafted debut novel by Viet Thanh Nguyen, The Sympathizer is the story of a man of two minds, whose lofty ideals necessitate his betrayal of the people closest to him. A gripping spy novel, an astute exploration of extreme politics, and a moving love story, The Sympathizer explores a life between two worlds and examines the legacy of the Vietnam War in literature, film, and the wars we fight today.

Youngblood by Matt Gallagher (Atria Books)

Youngblood by Matt Gallagher is an urgent and deeply moving novel about a young American soldier struggling to find meaning during the final, dark days of the War in Iraq. Newly minted lieutenant Jack Porter struggles with the preparations for withdrawal from Iraq, especially the alliances with warlords who have Arab and American blood on their hands.


Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (Spiegel and Grau)

In Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates shares the story of his awakening to the truth about history and his place in the world through a series of revelatory experiences: his immersion in nationalist mythology as a child; his engagement with history, poetry, and love at Howard University; travels to Civil War battlefields and the South Side of Chicago; a journey to France that reorients his sense of the world; and pilgrimages to the homes of mothers whose children’s lives were taken as American plunder. Taken together, these stories map a winding path toward a kind of liberation — a journey from fear and confusion to a full and honest understanding of this country, this world, and how we can all get free. Masterfully woven from lyrical personal narrative, reimagined history, and fresh, emotionally-charged reportage, Between the World and Me offers a powerful new framework for understanding America’s history and current crisis, and a transcendent vision for a way forward.

Find Me Unafraid by Kennedy Odede and Jessica Posner (Ecco)

Find Me Unafraid is the story of two young people from completely different worlds: Kennedy Odede from Kibera, the largest slum in Africa, and Jessica Posner from Denver, Colorado. Kennedy foraged for food, lived on the street, and taught himself to read with old newspapers. He bought a soccer ball and started a youth empowerment group he called Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO). Then in 2007, Wesleyan undergraduate Jessica Posner spent a semester abroad in Kenya working with SHOFCO. Breaking all convention, she decided to live in Kibera with Kennedy, and they fell in love. The alchemy of their remarkable union has drawn the support of community members and celebrities alike — The Clintons, Mia Farrow, and Nicholas Kristof are among their fans — and their work has changed the lives of many of Kibera’s most vulnerable population: its girls. Jess and Kennedy founded Kibera’s first tuition-free school for girls, which stands as a bastion of hope in what once felt like a hopeless place — and they are just getting started.

Nagasaki by Susan Southard (Viking/Penguin Random House)

Nagasaki by Susan Southard takes readers from the morning of the bombing to Nagasaki today, telling the dramatic eyewitness accounts of five survivors — all of whom were teenagers at the time of the bombing. In the face of career and marriage discrimination, each made difficult choices about hiding or revealing their identities as hibakusha (bomb-affected people). Narrative journalist Southard spent over a decade interviewing survivors, atomic bomb historians, physicians, psychologists, social workers, educators, and archivists to unveil this critically neglected story of twentieth century. Intimate, immediate, and grounded in historical context, Nagasaki will expand our understanding of the atomic bombs and their impact and help shape public discussion and debate over one of the most controversial wartime acts in history.

Showdown by Will Haygood (Knopf)

Thurgood Marshall brought down the separate-but-equal doctrine, integrated schools, and not only fought for human rights and human dignity but also made them impossible to deny in the courts and in the streets. In Showdown: Thurgood Marshall and the Supreme Court Nomination That Changed America a stunning new biography, award-winning author Wil Haygood surpasses the emotional impact of his inspiring best seller The Butler to detail the life and career of one of the most transformative legal minds of the past one hundred years.

Using the framework of the dramatic, contentious five-day Senate hearing to confirm Marshall as the first African-American Supreme Court justice, Haygood creates a provocative and moving look at Marshall’s life as well as the politicians, lawyers, activists, and others who shaped — or desperately tried to stop — the civil rights movement of the twentieth century. This galvanizing book makes clear that it is impossible to overestimate Thurgood Marshall’s lasting influence on the racial politics of our nation.

The Newcomer by Wab Kinew (Penguin Canada)

When his father was given a diagnosis of terminal cancer, Winnipeg broadcaster and musician Wab Kinew decided to spend a year reconnecting with the accomplished but distant aboriginal man who’d raised him. The Reason You Walk spans the year 2012, chronicling painful moments in the past and celebrating renewed hopes and dreams for the future.

Invoking hope, healing and forgiveness, The Reason You Walk is a poignant story of a towering but damaged father and his son as they embark on a journey to repair their family bond. By turns lighthearted and solemn, Kinew gives us an inspiring vision for family and cross-cultural reconciliation, and a wider conversation about the future of aboriginal peoples.

The Train to Crystal City by Jan Jarboe Russell (Scribner)

The Train to Crystal City by Jan Jarboe Russell is the dramatic and never-before-told story of a secret FDR-approved American internment camp in Texas during World War II, where thousands of families — many US citizens — were incarcerated. Combining big-picture World War II history with a little-known event in American history that has long been kept quiet, The Train to Crystal City reveals the war-time hysteria against the Japanese and Germans in America, the secrets of FDR’s tactics to rescue high-profile POWs in Germany and Japan, and how the definition of American citizenship changed under the pressure of war.

2016 Finalist Judges


Alexander Chee

is the author of the novels Edinburgh and The Queen of the Night. He is a contributing editor at The New Republic and Lit Hub, and an editor at large at VQR. His essays and stories have appeared in The New York Times Book Review, Tin House, Slate, Guernica, NPR and Out, among others. He is winner of a 2003 Whiting Award, a 2004 NEA Fellowship in prose and a 2010 MCCA Fellowship, and residency fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, the VCCA, Civitella Ranieri and Amtrak. He lives in New York City.

   Christine Schutt

is the author of two short story collections, Nightwork and A Day, a Night, Another Day, Summer. Her first novel, Florida, was a National Book Award finalist; her second novel, All Souls, a finalist for the 2009 Pulitzer Prize. A third novel, Prosperous Friends, was noted in The New Yorker as one of the best books of 2012. Her fiction has appeared in such publications as Harper’s, NOON, The Kenyon Review, and The Oxford American; her stories anthologized in The Vintage Book of New American Short Stories, The Anchor Book of New American Short Stories, and elsewhere. Among other honors, Schutt has twice won the O.Henry Short Story Prize. She is the recipient of the New York Foundation of the Arts and Guggenheim Fellowships and has taught at Columbia, Syracuse, UC-Irvine, Sarah Lawrence, Hollins, Barnard, and most recently as the Distinguished Visiting Writer at the University of Richmond.


   Ruben Martinez 

is a writer, teacher and performer, is a native of Los Angeles and the son and grandson of immigrants from Mexico and El Salvador. He holds the Fletcher Jones Chair in Literature and Writing at Loyola Marymount University, and is an artist in residence at Stanford University’s Institute for Diversity in the Arts. He is the author of: Desert America: A Journey Across Our Most Divided Landscape (Metropolitan/Holt), Crossing Over: A Mexican Family on the Migrant Trail(Metropolitan/Holt), The New Americans (New Press) and The Other Side: Notes from the New L.A., Mexico City and Beyond(Vintage).

A journalist with over two decades of experience in print, broadcast and online media, he hosted and co-wrote the feature-length documentary film about the first century after contact between Europe and the New World, When Worlds Collide, shot on location throughout Latin America and Spain, for PBS. He won an Emmy Award for hosting KCET-TV’s politics and culture series, “Life & Times.”

His essays, opinions and reportage have appeared in such publications as the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Review of Books, Boom: A Journal of California, Salon, Village Voice, The Nation, Spin, Sojourners, and Mother Jones. He is the recipient of a Lannan Foundation Fellowship, a Loeb Fellowship from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design, a Freedom of Information Award from the ACLU and a Greater Press Club of Los Angeles Award of Excellence.

As a musician, he has collaborated with Grammy-winning musicians like Quetzal and La Marisoul of La Santa Cecilia. He is the host of the VARIEDADES “performance salon” in Los Angeles, interdisciplinary shows that focus on topical themes.

    Evelyn McDonnell     

has written or co-edited six books, from Rock She Wrote: Women Write about Rock, Pop and Rap to Queens of Noise: The Real Story of the Runaways. A longtime journalist, she has been a pop culture writer at The Miami Heraldand a senior editor at The Village Voice. Her writing on music, poetry, theater, and culture has won several awards and appeared in publications and anthologies including the Los Angeles Times, Ms., Rolling Stone, The New York Times, Spin, Travel & Leisure, Billboard, Vibe, Interview, and Option. She has been an Annenberg Fellow at the University of Southern California. She is Assistant Professor of Journalism and New Media at Loyola Marymount University.

2016 Awards Ceremony

The 2016 Awards Ceremony was held at 5:00 pm on Sunday, November 20th, 2016, at the Benjamin and Marian Schuster Performing Arts Center at One West Second Street in Dayton, Ohio. Wil Haygood was the Master of Ceremonies.

See videos from the 2016 Award Ceremony!

Richard C. Holbrooke Award Marilynne Robinson

Fiction Award Viet Thanh Nguyen for The Sympathizer

Nonfiction Award Susan Southard for Nagasaki

Fiction Runner-up James Hannaham for Delicious Foods

Nonfiction Runner-up Kennedy Odede & Jessica Posner for Find Me Unafraid

Additional Videos

Photos by Andy Snow ( ©2016.

2016 Master of Ceremonies

Wil Haygood

Wil Haygood is currently Visiting Distinguished Scholar-in-Residence at Miami University, Ohio. For years he was a national and foreign correspondent at the Boston Globe, and then at the Washington Post.

At the Globe he covered the fall of apartheid in South Africa and stood across the road from the prison on the morning Nelson Mandela walked to freedom after 27 years. At the Washington Post, Haygood wrote the story about White House butler Eugene Allen, who worked for eight presidents. His story on Allen was adapted into the award-winning film, The Butler, which starred, among others, Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, Vanessa Redgrave, and Jane Fonda. Haygood served as an Associate Producer of The Butler.

Wil Haygood has written seven non-fiction books, including a quartet of major prizewinning biographies of Adam Clayton Powell Jr., Sammy Davis Jr., Sugar Ray Robinson, and Thurgood Marshall. His book, Showdown, about Marshall’s life and his 1967 confirmation hearings to become the first African-American Supreme Court Justice, was awarded the Scribes Book Award – given annually since 1961 to the best book written on American law; the Ohioana Award, and a BCALA Literary Award. It was also a Finalist for the Benjamin Hooks National Book Award, the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence, the NAACP Image Award, and the Dayton Literary Peace Prize.