Dayton Literary Peace Prize

2018 Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke
Distinguished Achievement Award

John Irving

“Novels and stories invite people into a writer’s worldview. For forty years and counting, I’ve written about sexual difference and sexual minorities — at times, when the prevailing literary culture labeled it bizarre or niche. I’ve written with the hope that the bigotry, hatred, and flat-out violence perpetrated on sexual minorities would become a relic of the past. In that sense I’ve written in protest — I’ve written protest novels. And yet, if I’ve written characters whose stories give them access to the breadth of human experience and emotion, I’ve done my job as a writer. Novels are my platform; if a prize helps bring attention to my subject matter, then I welcome it.”

— John Irving                        

John_Irving_2018-holbrooke-award-winner
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Bio

John Irving was born John Wallace Blunt, Jr., in Exeter, New Hampshire, in 1942. He took his stepfather’s name when his mother remarried. Colin F.N. Irving taught in the History Department at Philips Exeter Academy, where John Irving graduated in 1961. For twenty years, Mr. Irving competed as a wrestler. In 1992, he was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

Mr. Irving published his first novel, Setting Free the Bears, when he was twenty-six. He has been nominated for a National Book Award three times — winning once, in 1980, for his novel The World According to Garp. He received an O. Henry Award in 1981 for his short story “Interior Space.” In 2000, Mr. Irving won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for The Cider House Rules — a Lasse Hallström film with seven Academy Award nominations. In 2012, Mr. Irving won a Lambda Literary Award (in the Bisexual Fiction category) for his novel In One Person. His novels have been translated into more than thirty-five languages and his all-time best-selling novel, in every language, is A Prayer for Owen Meany.

Before the success of The World According to Garp allowed him to write full time, Mr. Irving held several teaching positions — notably, at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Mt. Holyoke College and Brandeis University.

John Irving co-owns the theatrical rights to The World According to Garp with Warner Brothers. He has written an adaptation of Garp as a teleplay — a miniseries in five episodes. He and Warner Brothers are currently in the process of finding a production and distribution partner for the Garp miniseries. Mr. Irving, who lives in Toronto, is also at work on his fifteenth novel — a ghost story called Darkness as a Bride.

Read the full press release

 

Book Excerpt


It was a Sunday afternoon; Duncan and Jenny always watched the pro football on Duncan’s hospital TV. It was a further good omen, 
Duncan thought, that the Vermont station carried the game, that Sunday, from Philadelphia. The Eagles were about to get creamed by the Cowboys. The game, however, didn’t matter; it was the before-the-game ceremony that Duncan appreciated. The flag was at half-mast for the former tight end Robert Muldoon. The scoreboard flashed 90! 90! 90! Duncan noted how the times had changed; for example, there were feminist funerals everywhere now; he had just read about a big one in Nebraska. And in Philadelphia the sports announcer managed to say, without snickering, that the flag flew at half-mast for Roberta Muldoon.

She was a fine athlete,” the announcer mumbled. “A great pair of 
hands.”

“An extraordinary person,” agreed the co-announcer.

The first man spoke again. “Yeah,” he said, “she didda lot for . . .” and he struggled, while Duncan waited to hear for whom—for freaks, for weirdos, for sexual disasters, for his father and his mother and himself and Ellen James. “She didda lot for people wid complicated lives,” the sports announcer said, surprising himself and Duncan Garp—but with dignity.

The band played. The Dallas Cowboys kicked off to the Philadelphia Eagles; it would be the first of many kickoffs that the Eagles would receive. And Duncan Garp could imagine his father, appreciating the announcer’s struggle to be tactful and kind.

Citation

Over the past 50 years, no American literary lion has roared as mightily across the planet as the novelist John Irving, the indefatigable author of fourteen novels, ten of which have been international bestsellers.

The 76-year-old Irving has been widely celebrated, both here and abroad, as a master storyteller and comic genius, and praised resoundingly for his intrepid and fearless engagement with controversial subject matter, and for the depth of his empathetic humanity, both as an artist and as a person. Translated into more than 35 languages, Irving’s narcotically-addictive fictions have made him a household name in dozens of nations, and earned him the rare status of an acclaimed literary writer who has simultaneously achieved stratospheric popular commercial success. It can also be said with some certainty that John Irving is the only Literary Lion in history to be both inducted into the Wrestling Hall of Fame and presented with an Oscar for screenwriting.

Born in 1942 in Exeter, New Hampshire, Irving’s early wanderlust landed him in Vienna, Austria, at age 21, a decision which prevented Irving from ever being pigeon-holed as a Yankee regionalist. Beginning in 1968 with Setting Free The Bears, published a year after Irving had earned an MFA from the Iowa Writers Workshop, Austria played a pivotal role is his first five novels. Although New England would serve as the focus of many of the author’s narratives, in later work as well Irving proved to be an enthusiastic globe-trotter, always expanding the playing field for his art and enhancing his universal appeal.

Irving, a famous contrarian, claims to disdain the label “Great American Novel,” and guffaws at any suggestion that such a thing might exist, yet he himself has written three works critically considered to be worthy of just such an appraisal.

The World According To Garp (1979) received a National Book Award and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Garp was not only a publishing blockbuster but a cultural phenomenon that skyrocketed Irving to a zone of celebrityhood never experienced by most authors. What enthralled audiences and critics alike, besides a riveting story-line, were Irving’s fascinating community of characters, who made the exotic (transgenderism, dwarfism) familiar, and the familiar uncomfortably and often tragically flawed. It was in Garp that Irving’s artistic prescience had a powerful impact on our culture, and all cultures. One could read Irving to get a sense of what the future would bring us–in 1979, his understanding that sexuality and its various evolutions, blendings and blurrings would become a central social, moral and political issue of our time, and a stage upon which all open-hearted people would struggle for social justice.

Again, in The Cider House Rules (1985), Irving’s audiences would not escape one of our nation’s most volatile political and theological conflicts–abortion, and a woman’s right to her own body. The thematic stakes at the core of Cider Houseencircled readers with the fog of paralyzing ambiguities that bedevil human existence, the clash of profound truths that bewilder us with cosmic irony.

Audiences worldwide would vote A Prayer for Owen Meany to the top of the list of Irving’s work as a true American classic. All the trademark Irving themes are radioactively present here from the minute a young boy hits a baseball into the stands and kills his best friend’s mother–random violence, absent parents, the nature of families and friendship, the dynamo of sexuality, the UnderToad–in this case the Vietnam War–lurking in the background to swallow our dreams. Here, too, we discover Irving’s passion for exploring the complexities of religion and Christianity, not a territory where many writers dare to venture.

John Irving wants to be known as a world-class entertainer, and he is. He also wouldn’t mind if we think of him as our own generation’s version of Charles Dickens, and we do. But what makes Irving such a beloved author around the world is that, against the violence he finds sweeping down on us, he provides the counterweight of gentle affection between people, merciful and sincere and indeed heart-breaking in its frequent futility. And against desperation and bigotry and hatred, we find in Irving, always when we least expect it, a brave hand, extended. When all the accounting is done, he will be remembered as one of the most generous writers of the human spirit.

Bob Shacochis
author of The Woman Who Lost Her Soul
2014 Recipient of the Dayton Literary Peace Award for Fiction

 

Book Excerpt


It was a Sunday afternoon; Duncan and Jenny always watched the pro football on Duncan’s hospital TV. It was a further good omen, 
Duncan thought, that the Vermont station carried the game, that Sunday, from Philadelphia. The Eagles were about to get creamed by the Cowboys. The game, however, didn’t matter; it was the before-the-game ceremony that Duncan appreciated. The flag was at half-mast for the former tight end Robert Muldoon. The scoreboard flashed 90! 90! 90! Duncan noted how the times had changed; for example, there were feminist funerals everywhere now; he had just read about a big one in Nebraska. And in Philadelphia the sports announcer managed to say, without snickering, that the flag flew at half-mast for Roberta Muldoon.

She was a fine athlete,” the announcer mumbled. “A great pair of 
hands.”

“An extraordinary person,” agreed the co-announcer.

The first man spoke again. “Yeah,” he said, “she didda lot for . . .” and he struggled, while Duncan waited to hear for whom—for freaks, for weirdos, for sexual disasters, for his father and his mother and himself and Ellen James. “She didda lot for people wid complicated lives,” the sports announcer said, surprising himself and Duncan Garp—but with dignity.

The band played. The Dallas Cowboys kicked off to the Philadelphia Eagles; it would be the first of many kickoffs that the Eagles would receive. And Duncan Garp could imagine his father, appreciating the announcer’s struggle to be tactful and kind.

Citation

Over the past 50 years, no American literary lion has roared as mightily across the planet as the novelist John Irving, the indefatigable author of fourteen novels, ten of which have been international bestsellers.

The 76-year-old Irving has been widely celebrated, both here and abroad, as a master storyteller and comic genius, and praised resoundingly for his intrepid and fearless engagement with controversial subject matter, and for the depth of his empathetic humanity, both as an artist and as a person. Translated into more than 35 languages, Irving’s narcotically-addictive fictions have made him a household name in dozens of nations, and earned him the rare status of an acclaimed literary writer who has simultaneously achieved stratospheric popular commercial success. It can also be said with some certainty that John Irving is the only Literary Lion in history to be both inducted into the Wrestling Hall of Fame and presented with an Oscar for screenwriting.

Born in 1942 in Exeter, New Hampshire, Irving’s early wanderlust landed him in Vienna, Austria, at age 21, a decision which prevented Irving from ever being pigeon-holed as a Yankee regionalist. Beginning in 1968 with Setting Free The Bears, published a year after Irving had earned an MFA from the Iowa Writers Workshop, Austria played a pivotal role is his first five novels. Although New England would serve as the focus of many of the author’s narratives, in later work as well Irving proved to be an enthusiastic globe-trotter, always expanding the playing field for his art and enhancing his universal appeal.

Irving, a famous contrarian, claims to disdain the label “Great American Novel,” and guffaws at any suggestion that such a thing might exist, yet he himself has written three works critically considered to be worthy of just such an appraisal.

The World According To Garp (1979) received a National Book Award and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Garp was not only a publishing blockbuster but a cultural phenomenon that skyrocketed Irving to a zone of celebrityhood never experienced by most authors. What enthralled audiences and critics alike, besides a riveting story-line, were Irving’s fascinating community of characters, who made the exotic (transgenderism, dwarfism) familiar, and the familiar uncomfortably and often tragically flawed. It was in Garp that Irving’s artistic prescience had a powerful impact on our culture, and all cultures. One could read Irving to get a sense of what the future would bring us–in 1979, his understanding that sexuality and its various evolutions, blendings and blurrings would become a central social, moral and political issue of our time, and a stage upon which all open-hearted people would struggle for social justice.

Again, in The Cider House Rules (1985), Irving’s audiences would not escape one of our nation’s most volatile political and theological conflicts–abortion, and a woman’s right to her own body. The thematic stakes at the core of Cider Houseencircled readers with the fog of paralyzing ambiguities that bedevil human existence, the clash of profound truths that bewilder us with cosmic irony.

Audiences worldwide would vote A Prayer for Owen Meany to the top of the list of Irving’s work as a true American classic. All the trademark Irving themes are radioactively present here from the minute a young boy hits a baseball into the stands and kills his best friend’s mother–random violence, absent parents, the nature of families and friendship, the dynamo of sexuality, the UnderToad–in this case the Vietnam War–lurking in the background to swallow our dreams. Here, too, we discover Irving’s passion for exploring the complexities of religion and Christianity, not a territory where many writers dare to venture.

John Irving wants to be known as a world-class entertainer, and he is. He also wouldn’t mind if we think of him as our own generation’s version of Charles Dickens, and we do. But what makes Irving such a beloved author around the world is that, against the violence he finds sweeping down on us, he provides the counterweight of gentle affection between people, merciful and sincere and indeed heart-breaking in its frequent futility. And against desperation and bigotry and hatred, we find in Irving, always when we least expect it, a brave hand, extended. When all the accounting is done, he will be remembered as one of the most generous writers of the human spirit.

Bob Shacochis
author of The Woman Who Lost Her Soul
2014 Recipient of the Dayton Literary Peace Award for Fiction

2018 Fiction Winner

Hala Alyan - Salt Houses

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“One of my earliest memories is watching my father’s face light up as I chatted excitedly about the first book I read on my own. It’s taken me years to truly understand that moment—that, in that instant, my father witnessed my foray into the sacred world of fiction, of perspective-taking and erasing borders, of understanding the complexity of others. He watched me untangle from the confines of immigration, the Gulf War we’d just fled from, and the ensuing otherness, and when I began to write my own stories, that sense of freedom magnified.

“Writing has taught me to pay homage to my ancestors and envision the world after I am long gone; it has empowered me to tell stories of oppression and restoration, to envision peace as something tangible. I am my most human when I am writing, my most alert and engaged and compassionate. To have my novel seen as a conduit for peace-building is remarkably humbling. Thank you for the honor of the Dayton Literary Peace Prize.”

— Hala Alyan                        

Bio

Hala Alyan was born in 1986. After living in various parts of the Middle East, she completed a doctorate in clinical psychology and currently works at New York University.

Her poetry collections have won the Arab American Book Award and the Crab Orchard Series. Her debut novel, Salt Houses, was published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2017, and was longlisted for the Aspen Words Literary Prize and was named a “Best Book of the Year” by NPR, NYLON, and Kirkus Reviews. She has been published in the New York Times, Guernica, Lenny, the Colorado Review, and elsewhere.

She lives in Brooklyn with her husband.

Citation

Set against a backdrop of the Palestinian diaspora, Salt Houses tells a highly nuanced story of the Yacoub family and its generations. Displacement, an undeserved curse, follows them wherever they go. From the orange groves of Jaffa set ablaze by the troops of the new Israeli nation, to the pre-Gulf War housing complexes of Kuwait, or the shopping centers of Beirut, Alyan brings the reader confidently into the proxy homes that never quite succeed in matching the Yacoub’s true home in Palestine.

The memory of home lingers inside them, even if they have never set foot there. As Salma, only a girl when her family fled Palestine, is dying, she tells her daughter Alia “I saw the houses, I saw how they were lost. You cannot let yourself forget.” Alia, hearing this outburst without context, doesn’t understand what her mother means, but the reader grasps it immediately. After all, some families in Morocco, to this day hold the keys to ancestral homes, lost when the Spanish conquered the last Islamic kingdom in Al-Andalus in 1492.

Everyone remembers, or tries to forget or accept, in their own way. Salma’s granddaughter Riham, almost drowning at sea as a young girl, devotes herself to Allah. Her sister Souad, seeks shelter in the West, first Paris, where she enters a hasty marriage at eighteen, and then to Boston, and back to Beirut with her three children when her marriage fails. The stepson of Riham, Abdullah, falls in with older men advocating Sharia law who make him and other dispossessed young men “feel like giants.” It’s not the big events that make the novel so compelling but the deep observations of the personal ruptures that history causes in the lives of an ordinary family that is this novel’s great achievement. Forgetting, we learn, is not easy. It is not, in the long run, even possible. Rather than trying to explain such great losses, Halyan generously gives us the keys to the many rooms in which the Yacoubs persist, in memory and in spite of it.

— Robin Hemley
2018 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.

2018 Fiction Runner-up

Min Jin Lee - Pachinko

“The world is broken because we do not love enough. War, peace, and art require at least three elements: imagination, will, and action—and ironically, all three are enacted because men and women feel love. This is the central paradox—we love—the other, self, family, faith, or nation—and we use that love—of something, or someone, for anything—to justify our violence, compromises, and creation. We know that peace is far more difficult than war or art, because peace requires both forgiveness and restraint; so somehow, we must learn to love peace far more than war. If literature bears witness to true narrative and if it awakens compassion, reconciliation may indeed be possible. Where men and women have failed to love, literature may inspire greater love for all those we’d once thought we feared or hated. I write fiction because I believe that our love can refine our worse nature. I am deeply honored to join the Dayton Literary Peace Prize family of writers as we pursue our collective call toward global peace.”

— Min Jin Lee              

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Bio

Min Jin Lee is a recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation (2018) and the Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study at Harvard (2018-9). Lee’s recent novel Pachinko was a finalist for the National Book Award, a New York Times bestseller, a Top 10 Books of the Year for the New York Times, a joint book club selection of PBS NewsHour and the New York Times, and on over 75 best-of-the-year lists. Lee’s debut novel, Free Food for Millionaires, was a Top 10 Books of the Year for The Times, NPR’s Fresh Air and USA Today.

Her writings have appeared in The New Yorker, Guardian, The New York Review of Books, The New York Times Book Review, The Times Literary Supplement, The Times, Vogue, and Wall Street Journal. She has served as a columnist for The Chosun Ilbo, South Korea’s leading newspaper, for three seasons.

 

Book Excerpt


Noa stared at her. She would always believe that he was someone else, that he wasn’t himself but some fanciful idea of a foreign person; she would always feel like she was someone special because she had condescended to be with someone everyone else hated. His presence would prove to the world that she was a good person, an educated person, a liberal person. Noa didn’t care about being Korean when he was with her; in fact, he didn’t care about being Korean or Japanese with anyone. He wanted to be, to be just himself, whatever that meant; he wanted to forget himself sometimes. But that wasn’t possible. It would never be possible with her.

“I will pack up your things and have them sent to your house by messenger. I don’t want to see you anymore. Please never come see me again.”

“Noa, what are you saying?” Akiko said, astonished. “Is this the Korean temper that I’ve never seen that before?” She laughed.

“You and I. It cannot be.”

“Why?”

“Because it cannot.” There was nothing else he could think of, and he wanted to spare her the cruelty of what he had learned, because she would not believe that she was no different than her parents, that seeing him as only Korean—good or bad—was the same as seeing him only as a bad Korean. She could not see his humanity, and Noa realized that this was what he wanted most of all: to be seen as human.

Citation

In Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko a dying Korean man tells his young Korean-Japanese son that “living every day in the presence of those who refuse to acknowledge your humanity takes great courage.” This profound sentiment can serve as a thematic summary of the novel and it is a familiar concept to marginalized persons in every part of the world. While the sentiment may be familiar, the setting may not as Lee illuminates and contextualizes an overlooked portion of our collective human history with specificity and grace. Familiar, too, are the stereotypes that follow these immigrants of Korean ancestry throughout out the book (the dichotomy of the “good’ vs ‘bad” Korean, the idea that they exist to do the dirty work citizens would rather not) and despite living in Japan for generations, they are considered foreigners, subject to discrimination and deportation at a moment’s notice, permanent guests in a land that is their home.

Pachinko brings life to the complex trajectories of Koreans in Japan, those who both thrive and fail in the shadowy not-quite-citizenship of unwanted immigrants residing in their colonizer’s land. It is rich soil for a writer to till and Lee digs deep, interweaving a myriad of conditions — gender, class, beauty — a nesting doll of oppressions that fully reflect the realities of the past and present. Gender in particular, specifically the choices women make to survive, steer significant portions of the novel, and one woman’s choice is the seed from which the novel blooms, yielding numerous characters with compelling stories to follow. And it is in rendering these individuals that Pachinko shines, as Lee uses omniscience to delve into the minds of even the most minor characters, dense asides that contextualize a person in a sentence or paragraph, lending a fullness to the narrative and breathing life that pushes characters beyond their historical context into multifaceted persons. The cumulative effect of this, of fully-realized major and minor characters, throws the past into relief, reminding us that history is composed of individuals who have done their best to endure. Spanning less than a hundred years, Pachinko is a dense and vividly layered account of this slice of contemporary Korean and Japanese history. Deeply moving, gorgeously rendered, intensely researched and whip smart, it is required reading that will stay with you for some time.

— Lesley Arimah
2018 finalist judge

2018 Nonfiction Winner

Ta-Nehisi Coates - We Were Eight Years in Power

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“When I began writing seriously, I was determined to never be an interpreter. It did not occur to me that writing is always some form of interpretation, some form of translating the specificity of one’s roots or expertise or even one’s own mind into language that can be absorbed and assimilated into the consciousness of a broader audience.”

— Ta-Nehisi Coates

Bio

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a distinguished writer in residence at NYU’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute. He is the author of the bestselling books The Beautiful Struggle, We Were Eight Years in Power, and Between The World And Me, which won the National Book Award in 2015. Coates is a recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, and he is also the current author of the Marvel comics The Black Panther and Captain America.

Citation

We Were Eight Years in Power, Ta-Nehisi Coates’ astounding collection of new and selected essays, offers a searing indictment of white supremacy in America and its horrific, centuries-long impact on African Americans in the United States. Coates presents a stunning tapestry of historical research, journalism, and personal narrative that relentlessly defies the lies and myths of slavery and exposes the long history of rape, murder, torture, economic oppression, and denial of human and civil rights to African Americans during the 150 years since the Reconstruction.

We Were Eight Years in Power features nine of Coates essays published in The Atlantic during and just after the Obama presidency. These essays explore in depth a broad range of topics, including Michelle Obama, Bill Cosby, Malcom X, the skewed historical memory of the Civil War, 20th century mass incarceration of African Americans, and—in perhaps his most famous and powerful essay—“The Case for Reparations.” Coates prefaces these essays with eight new and more intimate pieces reflecting on each year of Obama’s presidency. These new pieces reveal Coates’ drive to understand his own and the larger African American identity, and they situate his inspirations and struggles as a writer in a long tradition of African American storytellers and social critics.

There is no sentiment here. No self-pity. In a clear, knowledgeable, and often defiant voice, Coates provides a complex and potent history of white supremacy at every level of society since our nations’ beginnings and demonstrates its continued presence in our lives today. Coates calls us to face this essential part of the American identity, to reject the pretense of America as a shining democracy, and to acknowledge that America is, in his words, “the work of fallible humans.”

– Susan Southard and Alan Taylor
2018 finalist judges

 

Book Excerpt


Any fair consideration of the depth and width of enslavement tempts insanity. First conjure the crime — the generational destruction of human bodies—and all of its related offenses—domestic terrorism, poll taxes, mass incarceration. But then try to imagine being an individual born among the remnants of that crime, among the wronged, among the plundered, and feeling the gravity of that crime all around and seeing it in the sideways glances of the perpetrators of that crime and overhearing it in their whispers and watching these people, at best, denying their power to address the crime and, at worst, denying that any crime had occurred at all, even as their entire lives revolve around the fact of a robbery so large that it is written in our very names. This is not a thought experiment. America is literally unimaginable without plundered labor shackled to plundered land, without the organizing principle of whiteness as citizenship, without the culture crafted by the plundered, and without that culture itself being plundered.

2018 Nonfiction Runner-up

Michelle Kuo - Reading with Patrick: A Teacher, a Student and a Life-Changing Friendship

“By telling the story of an incarcerated person learning to read and write, I hoped to show how books can charge an inner life with imagination and beauty. I sought to grapple openly with the question: What do we owe each other in a world of inequality, and how can we do the hard work of coming to know one another? Reading together is one way to create a shared world. I am deeply grateful to be recognized by the Dayton Literary Peace Prize. In honoring my book, it honors the idea that there can be no peace without economic and racial equality, and no freedom without literacy.”

— Michelle Kuo             

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Bio

Michelle Kuo was born and raised in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Kuo’s parents are immigrants from Taiwan. She taught English at an alternative school in the Arkansas Delta for two years. After teaching, she attended Harvard Law School as a Paul and Daisy Soros Fellow and worked in legal aid at a nonprofit for Spanish-speaking immigrants in the Fruitvale district of Oakland, California, on a Skadden Fellowship, with a focus on tenants’ and workers’ rights. She has volunteered as a teacher at the Prison University Project, the only college-degree-granting program in a California prison, and clerked for the Honorable Jon T. Noonan on the Ninth Circuit.

Currently, she teaches courses on race, law, and society at the American University of Paris, where she recently won the Board of Trustees Award for Distinguished Teaching.


Book Excerpt


I know what I am doing: wishful thinking, crazy thinking. I know that maybe nothing would be different if I had stayed, that Patrick might have kept living his life and I mine. And I know it sounds as if I think I could have saved him, as if I think I’m so important in his life. It’s not like that.

Or maybe it is, in the sense that the alternative, the rational thought, would be to say to myself, You can’t do that much, you’re not that important, there are so many forces in a person’s life, good and bad, who do you think you are. That’s what I said to make myself feel better after I left the Delta, and sometimes I still say it. But then what is a human for? A person must matter to another, it must mean something for two people to have passed time together, to have put work into one another and into becoming more fully themselves. So even if I am wrong, if my dreaming is wrong, the alternative, to not dream at all, seems wrong, too.

Citation

In Reading with Patrick: A Teacher, a Student and a Life-Changing Friendship, Michelle Kuo tells the riveting story of her relationship, as mentor and friend, with Patrick, who is fifteen-years old and in eighth-grade when they meet. In this candid and poignant memoir, Kuo contemplates her own class and racial position as the child of Taiwanese immigrants who settle in Michigan and later take pride in their daughter’s Harvard education as a sign of the family’s success. They are troubled and confused, however, when, after graduation, Kuo joins Teach for America and ventures to the rural, impoverished, and predominantly African American town of Helena, Arkansas. Kuo, however, finds inspiration in her broad reading in history and literature—particularly the work of James Baldwin—and she seeks to promote social and educational justice by teaching literature and writing to young people marginalized by race and class.

The book is especially powerful in juxtaposing her own struggle against deeply imbedded stereotypes—held by her African American students as well as white Americans—with the grimmer conditions of her students. They live in the Delta, a region shaped by the winding, muddy Mississippi River as well as a history of plantation slavery, and the Civil Rights movement, and the severity of White reaction to it. Her understanding of the Delta grows as she befriends her former student, Patrick Browning, whose mild manners and gift for poetry clashes with his prosecution and imprisonment for killing another adolescent in a fight. The two develop a transformational relationship that empowers both with greater confidence and trust in their voices as teacher and emerging young writer.

Kuo crafts a profound reflection on our entanglement in racial and class distinctions and with the educational and legal institutions built on those distinctions. Hope appears in this teacher’s ability to learn from her students as she strengthens their literacy, exposes them to great works of literature, and helps them develop their skills as writers. Ultimately, Kuo offers no easy way out of our dilemmas, no quick moral resolution, but instead presents deep, hard-earned, and often painful insights into herself, her parents, Patrick, the Delta, and the complexity of American society.

– Susan Southard and Alan Taylor
2018 finalist judges

2018 Finalists

Fiction

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (Riverhead)

An astonishingly timely love story that brilliantly imagines the forces that transform ordinary people into refugees and the impossible choices that follow.

Go, Went, Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck (New Direction)

A scathing indictment of Western policy toward the European refugee crisis, but also a touching portrait of a man who finds he has more in common with the Africans than he realizes

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee (Grand Central)

Four generations of a poor, proud immigrant Korean family fight to control their destinies, exiled from a homeland they never knew.

Salt Houses by Hala Alyan (NMH)

A heartbreaking story that follows three generations of a Palestinian family and asks us to confront that most devastating of all truths: you can’t go home again.

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn (Scribner)

Following a family making the trip from their Gulf Coast town to the Mississippi State Penitentiary, testing the strength of emotional bonds and the pull of our collective history.

Spaceman of Bohemia by Jaroslav Kalfar (Little, Brown)

Raised in the Czech countryside by his doting grandparents, Jakub Procházka has risen from small-time scientist to become the country’s first astronaut. A dangerous solo mission to Venus offers him the chance at heroism he’s dreamt of an a way to atone for his father’s sins as a Communist informer.

Nonfiction

Enduring Vietnam by James Wright (St. Martin’s Press)

Recounts the experiences of the young Americans who fought in Vietnam and of families who grieved those who did not return.

Ghost of the Innocent Man by Benjamin Rachlin (Little, Brown)

A gripping account of one man’s long road to freedom that will forever change how we understand our criminal justice system through one of the most dramatic of those cases. It provides a picture of wrongful conviction and of the opportunity for meaningful reform.

Lola’s House by M. Evelina Galang (Northwestern U. Press)

Tells the stories, in unprecedented detail, of sixteen surviving Filipino “comfort women.” Not only a book of testimony and documentation, it is a book of witness, of survival, and of the female body.

Reading with Patrick by Michelle Kuo (Random House)

In this stirring memoir, Kuo, the child of Taiwanese immigrants, shares the story of her complicated but rewarding mentorship of one students, Patrick Browning, and his remarkable literary and personal awakening.

The Newcomer by Helen Thorpe (Scribner)

Helen Thorpe’s intensive, year-long reporting puts a human face on the faces of 22 newly-arrived teenagers taking a beginner-level English Language Acquisition class at South High School in Denver.

We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates (One World PRH)

Biting cultural and political analysis…reflects on race, Barack Obama’s presidency and its jarring aftermath, and his evolution as a writer in eight stunningly incisive essays. Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

2018 Finalist Judges

Fiction

Lesley Nneka Arimah

was born in the UK and grew up in Nigeria and wherever else her father was stationed for work. She has been a finalist for a National Magazine Award and the Caine Prize, and a winner of the African Commonwealth Short Story Prize, an O. Henry Award, and other honors. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, Harper’s, GRANTA and has received support from The Elizabeth George Foundation, The Jerome Foundation, and MacDowell, among others. She was selected for the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35 and her debut collection What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky won the 2017 Kirkus Prize. She lives in Minneapolis and is working on a novel about you.

   Robin Hemley   

is the author of twelve books of nonfiction and fiction, and has won numerous awards for his writing, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, three Pushcart Prizes in both fiction and nonfiction, The Independent Press Book Award, an Editors Choice Award from The American Library Association, State Arts Council grants from Washington, North Carolina, and Illinois, The Ohioana Library Association Award, and fellowships from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, The MacDowell Colony, and many others. His work has been published in the U.S. Great Britain, Canada, Australia, Japan, Germany, the Philippines, Singapore, and elsewhere.

A graduate of the Iowa Writers Workshop, he returned to Iowa to direct the Nonfiction Writing Program for nine years before moving to Singapore to direct the writing program at Yale-NUS College and also serve as Writer-in-Residence there. He is also a Visiting Professor at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia and Professor Emeritus at The University of Iowa.

Nonfiction

   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. Her first book, Nagasaki: Life After Nuclear War(Viking, 2015) received the 2016 Dayton Literary Peace Prize in Nonfiction and the Lukas Book Prize, sponsored by the Columbia School of Journalism and Harvard University’s Nieman Foundation for Journalism. Nagasaki was also named a best book of the year by The Washington Post, The Economist, the American Library Association, and Kirkus Reviews.

Southard’s work has appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Politico, and Lapham’s Quarterly. She now speaks across the United States and abroad, including presentations before the United Nations and at a United Nations nuclear disarmament conference in Hiroshima. Southard has taught nonfiction seminars at Arizona State University’s Piper Writers Studio and the University of Georgia, and directed creative writing programs for incarcerated youth and at a federal prison for women outside Phoenix. She is the founder and artistic director of the Phoenix-based Essential Theatre, a professional company now in its 29th season serving marginalized communities across the Southwest.

    Alan Taylor     

is an award-winning author and teacher. He taught in the history department at Boston University from 1987 to 1994. Since 1994, he has been a professor at the University of California at Davis. In 2002 he won the University of California at Davis Award for Teaching and Scholarly Achievement and the Phi Beta Kappa, Northern California Association, Teaching Excellence Award.

Taylor has published eight books. William Cooper’s Town won the Pulitzer Prize for American history in addition to the Bancroft and Beveridge prizes. The Internal Enemy won the Pulitzer Prize for American history and the Merle Curti Prize for Social History (OAH). American Colonies won the 2001 Gold Medal for Non-Fiction from the Commonwealth Club of California. The Divided Ground won the 2007 Society for Historians of the Early Republic book prize and the 2004-7 Society of the Cincinnati triennial book prize. The Civil War of 1812 won the Empire State History Prize and was a finalist for the George Washington Prize.

2018 Awards Ceremony

The 2018 Awards Ceremony was held at 5:00 pm on Sunday, October 28th, 2018, 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 2018 Award Ceremony!

Richard C. Holbrooke Award John Irving

Fiction Award Hala Alyan for Salt Houses

Nonfiction Award Ta-Nehisi Coates for We Were Eight Years in Power

Fiction Runner-up Min Jin Lee for Pachinko

Nonfiction Runner-up Michelle Kuo for Reading with Patrick

Additional videos

Entire Awards Ceremony, October 28, 2018

Remarks by Kati Marton, October 28, 2018

2018 Authors’ Reflection, October 27, 2018

A Conversation with the Authors, October 28, 2018

Photos by Andy Snow (andysnow.com) ©2018.

2018 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.