The Dayton Literary Peace Prize
"Contests With Vision: Prizes With a Focus on Social Justice"
by Dana Isokawa
Poets & Writers Magazine
In Dayton, Ohio, words brokered a Peace Accord, ending the violence in the Balkans and saving thousands of lives. In that same spirit, the Dayton Literary Peace Prize (DLPP) is dedicated to supporting those who write, publish, read, and share books that advance peace. Our criteria focus on the subject of peace, broadly defined as increasing harmony and understanding between and among people, addressing peace as it applies to individuals, families, communities, nations, ethnic groups, cultures, and religions.
Over eleven years, we have honored established and emerging writers representing seventeen countries whose books have settings and characters from around the globe. Writer after writer has remarked that through literature, readers experience the empathy that can shift the tide from violence, aggression, fear, intolerance, injustice,
and the love of power that lead to war, to tolerance and understanding that lead to peace. Barbara Kingsolver described empathy as developing “like a muscle—it strengthens with use.” It is through literature that we realize our shared humanity, a realization essential to any genuine pursuit of peace.
For the DLPP, the awards ceremony is not the end, it is the beginning of our goal of creating the opportunities for writers to share their works through visits to schools, colleges and universities, book clubs, libraries, our Author Series, our website, and social media outreach. The books must be read to be a part of the change we seek. Knowing that readers have been changed by books, it is not such a large step to think that the world could be changed as well. The writers we have honored have fine-tuned our sense of what is acceptable, and more importantly, what is not acceptable.
The Dayton Literary Peace Prize books are not easy books and many arrive at their message of peace through stories about war. Tim O’Brien said, “I’ve spent thirty-five years being called a war writer and I’m not. The surface of my books may well be war, but the interior and spirit of the books is about this yearning and craving and thirst for a world of peace.” The difficulty sometimes lies in powerful, complicated structure, often the subject matter is raw and brutal in its depiction of the ugly parts of history, but the greatest difficulty comes from what they ask of the reader. Adam Johnson remarked, “The people who have a gift for storytelling also have a duty to tell the stories of others who cannot tell their own.” It becomes the readers’ duty to listen to those stories and to learn from them. These books provoke us and challenge us to change ourselves and our world. Having heard the same message from a series of authors over time, we are moved to act.
The DLPP will continue to search for writers who help exercise the empathy muscle, to acknowledge the difficult message they share with us and to honor their writing. As Wendell Berry said, “In a time that spends so many words and dollars upon conflict, it is encouraging to be noticed for having said a few words in favor of peace.”
Founder and Co-Chair
Dayton Literary Peace Prize Foundation