Dayton Literary Peace Prize

2020 & 2021 Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke
Distinguished Achievement Award

Margaret Atwood

What does writing have to do with peace?  Writing as the placing of words on surfaces – clay, stone, papyrus, vellum, paper – not much. Early writing was used to record inventories and to praise rulers, but not to encourage peace.

But fiction writing is different. If the fiction presents its characters in the round – what they think, what they feel, who they love and fear – it’s impossible not to realize that those being read about are as human as those doing the reading. And if the characters are from other places or other cultures, it becomes less and less possible to dismiss such people as not like us and therefore not our fellow mortals.

Writers are limited in their range – in what they are able to write about –whereas readers are not. Readers can read across the whole sweep of human experience – as far back in the past as they can see, as far afield as they can reach, as far into the future as it is possible to imagine. The closer we are to a person, the psychiatrists tell us, the harder it is to actually murder them. Perhaps that is the way in which reading is conducive to peace: it brings us closer together. If I feel I know you, understand you, and like you, why would I wish to make war on you?

That, at any rate, is our hope. We could certainly use a little hope, right about now.”

— Margaret Atwood                        

DLPP 2020 Holbrooke Margaret Atwood

Bio

MARGARET ATWOOD, whose work has been published in more than forty-five countries, is the author of more than fifty books of fiction, poetry, critical essays, and graphic novels. Dearly, her first collection of poetry in over a decade, will be published in November 2020.  Her latest novel, The Testaments, is a co-winner of the 2019 Booker Prize.  It is the long-awaited sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, now an award-winning TV series. Her other works of fiction include Cat’s Eye, finalist for the 1989 Booker Prize; Alias Grace, which won the Giller Prize in Canada and the Premio Mondello in Italy; The Blind Assassin, winner of the 2000 Booker Prize; The MaddAddam Trilogy; and Hag-Seed. She is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade, the Franz Kafka International Literary Prize, the PEN Center USA Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Los Angeles Times Innovator’s Award. She lives in Toronto.

Read the full press release

Citation

It is not often that a writer achieves both widespread critical respect and popular success while tackling the most pressing social justice and ecological issues of her or his time. Rarer still is the writer who can depict our near futures so uncannily, predicting every wrong step we will take to get there.  Rarest of all is the writer who can do all that with a light touch, in a style both erudite and accessible, ethical and satirical, humane and humorous. Over a career that spans more than 50 years, Margaret Atwood has been that rarest of writers.

A prolific writer, Atwood is the author of seventeen published novels, ten collections of short fiction, twenty collections of poetry, seven children’s books, and ten works of nonfiction, literary or cultural criticism and has edited several anthologies of Canadian fiction. From The Handmaids Tale (1985) on, her novels have been nominated or shortlisted for multiple international awards for fiction, science fiction, or fantasy. She has won the Booker Prize twice—for The Blind Assassin in 2000 and for her sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, The Testaments, in 2019. The Handmaid’s Tale, perhaps her best-known work of fiction, was shortlisted the Booker while garnering the Arthur C. Clarke Award for Science Fiction Literature and Canada’s Governor General’s Award for fiction.

The sheer number and diversity of these honors is testament to the diversity of genres and modes she confidently deploys, mixes, juggles, and inverts. What is the gothic, after all, but the underside of domestic realism? What are speculative fictions like two Gilead novels and the three Maddaddam novels, after all, but detection tales of crimes against humanity or the environment played out on a massive social scale? Atwood is a feminist first and foremost, making women’s lives and experiences under patriarchy central to her work. Feminism shapes her exploration of all pressing issues, from civil rights and gender equality to environmentalism, sustainability, education, the lasting impact of colonialism and casualties of empire, criminal justice and incarceration, or consumer capitalism.

This is serious stuff, and Atwood is serious about educating her readers, both showing us our complicity and reintroducing us to our better angels. If serious writers have the duty to bear witness, warn, admonish, and instruct, they also have the obligation to entertain us, to draw us in, to make the experience worth the candle. Never didactic, always good humored and generous, Atwood does just that. With rich world-building and unexpected characterizations and inventive plots, she invites us to look behind and beyond our privilege and to be made uncomfortable by what we see.

“If writing novels—and reading them—have any redeeming social value,” Atwood wrote, long before there was a Dayton Literary Peace Prize, “it’s probably that they force you to imagine what it’s like to be somebody else. Which, increasingly, is something we all need to know.”  It is for her outstanding lifetime literary achievement in fostering our understanding of others and of ourselves that we honor her.

Carol S. Loranger
Associate Dean, College of Liberal Arts
Wright State University

2021 Fiction Winner

Alexander Starritt - We Germans

“There’s a memoir called Lark Rise to Candleford about growing up in rural Oxfordshire in the 1890s, so about the generation that would go on to fight in the First World War. Most of the villagers had never travelled as far as Oxford, a couple of dozen miles away – let alone to Belgium or Germany. Practically none of the participants in that war knew anything at all about their supposed enemies. My hunch is that the more people understand about each other, the higher the bar that generals and jingoists have to get over to convince the public that “the French,” “the Germans,” or “the Chinese” are baddies. And so, I think that literature from elsewhere, along with cheap air travel and Netflix streaming shows from other countries, is an agent of peace and international understanding. Maybe it’s too much of an Enlightenment simplification to say that greater knowledge can rein in humanity’s more savage, clannish impulses. But humans have an inborn impulse to empathize, to feel along with those whose struggles they read about, which applies as much to what we hear about “the Russians” or “the Americans” as it does to characters in novels.”

— Alexander Starritt                        

Bio

Alexander Starritt’s first novel, The Beast, a loving satire of Britain’s tabloid newspapers, was published in 2017. The Spectator named it as a book of the year, calling it “irresistible”, while The Sunday Times said: “He proves that he is not only a very funny writer, but possesses the ruthless unsentimentality of the finest satirists.”

His second novel, We Germans, a story of German soldiers in the Second World War, was published in 2020. The New York Times said: “Starritt’s daring work challenges us to lay bare our histories, to seek answers from the past and to be open to perspectives starkly different from our own,” while Kirkus Reviews called it “a small masterpiece.” We Germans has been translated into several languages.

Starritt has also translated works by Franz Kafka, Stefan Zweig, Arthur Schnitzler, and others into English. In particular he made a selection and translation of Kafka’s best short stories, titled The Unhappiness of Being a Single Man

Starritt was born in the northeast of Scotland. He has lived in Italy, where he worked for the Santa Maddalena literary foundation, and in Germany. He now lives in London with his family.

Citation

We Germans is an intense, short novel with an enormous impact, because it faces into the great unanswerable human conundrum: the persistence of evil, the very nature of it, and all the facets of helpless striving from which it can spring. A young British man has questioned his grandfather about what it was like being a German soldier in World War II. The grandfather, Meissner, refuses to talk about it. But after his death, a long letter is discovered in his effects, addressed to the young man. “My dear Callum,” it begins. And the story unfolds.

One has the feeling, reading this book, that evil may be a sort of mental or spiritual strand of molecular structure, in our nature. Meissner talks of his life as a common soldier of the Third Reich, recalling the horrors of the Eastern Front in Russia, and then in the Gulag, as a prisoner of war. “I wasn’t a Nazi,” he says, “No court would find me guilty of anything, not even an omniscient one. What I want to tell you isn’t about atrocities or genocide. I didn’t see the camps and I’m not qualified to say anything about them. I read Primo Levi’s book about it, like everyone else. Except of course that when we Germans read it, we have to think: we did this.”

He goes on to say that his letter is about courage, and gives as an example the story of a brother who is terminally ill, playing football on his crutches. But as he goes on, describing the terrible winter of 1944, as the German army dissolves in starvation and hypothermia and the attritions of combat, a portrait emerges of a man with blood on his hands, trying to explain to his grandson how it was, how it truly was. What one comes to, reading this fine novel, is a strange kind of revelation – how our great tragedy as a species may not be savagery, but a devastatingly two-edged facet of our being: our capacity for cooperation, for lining up and doing what is ordered, and the letter itself becomes what its fictional recipient calls a “conflicted inheritance.”

This is a novel of great intelligence and eloquence, a fully realized portrait of the complex threads that make up a single human life in terrible times.

— Richard Bausch
2021 finalist judge,
2009 Fiction Award Winner for
Peace

 

Book Excerpt

 

This is what it means to conduct a war without civility. If you have a rifle, you can be whimsical with the life of whoever doesn’t have one. Might makes right. For a long time, I believed that although we were near the bottom of the spectrum of how nations behave when they are trying to coerce one another, we were still within its bounds. That day I also thought: once this war is won, we, like other nations, will have to think about the abhorrent things some of our millions of people perpetrated while it was going on. I wrongly thought that this cruelty was in the individuals, not, fundamentally, in our system of government, in our culture, in us.

2020 Fiction Winner

Alice Hoffman - The World That We Knew

It is a great honor to be selected as the winner of the Dayton Peace Prize for my novel The World That We Knew, a book that explores what it means to be human in an inhuman time. Literature’s greatest gift is that it allows readers, and writers, to imagine ourselves living other lives, as other souls, in situations that challenge who we are and allow us to think about living a moral life. In writing about the Holocaust, especially now, at a time two thirds of millennials queried could not identify Auschwitz and 22 per cent had not heard of the Holocaust, this novel may be the most important work of my career. I want my readers to experience what it feels like is to be abandoned, ostracized, tortured, and murdered, as the result of being consider an outsider, just as I want them to feel what it is like to be loyal, to trust, to fight for justice, to love someone. It was my great privilege to meet with child survivors, now in their eighties and nineties, in this country and in France, and I was awed by their courage and humanity. Writing a novel that originated in their world was one of the great experiences of my life, one I will always be grateful for.

— Alice Hoffman                        

Bio

Alice Hoffman is the author of more than thirty works of fiction, including Magic LessonsThe World That We KnewPractical Magic, The Rules of Magic, the Oprah’s Book Club selection Here on EarthThe Red GardenThe DovekeepersThe Museum of Extraordinary ThingsThe Marriage of Opposites, and Faithful. She lives near Boston.

Citation

Alice Hoffman’s novel is a dark, fierce fairy-tale about a girl, a golem, and the power of love. Nazi-occupied Europe bred any number of monsters, but also heroes and good witches and ordinary people battling extraordinary evil. In the forests and villages of la France profonde, farmers and doctors and old ladies hide Jews and help the Resistance, gumming up Hitler’s death machine, prepared to sacrifice themselves in the service of human decency. Hoffman does not shrink from describing the violence, the sheer viciousness, of the Nazis, but her austerely lyrical prose ensures she never milks the horror for effect. She writes of the killing of innocents with a deceptive calm. Skip a couple of sentences and you might miss it. Hoffman treats the most terrible incidents the way Eudora Welty and the Brothers Grimm, do, depicting rape and murder in almost matter-of-fact terms, as if reporting the passing of the seasons or the rising of the sun. Yet this plain presentation heightens the horror; the straightforwardness of Hoffman’s language is like a bright light illuminating torn and bloody flesh.

Hoffman’s novels often deploy a kind of magic realism in the face of trauma, the numinous slipping delicate as a cat into the lives of people experiencing unimaginable cruelty. It’s a strategy she’s deployed before, in novels such as The Museum of Extraordinary Things and Blackbird House, exquisitely and unobtrusively threaded into the fabric of her characters’ lives. You’re somehow not surprised that the dark-clad Angel of Death can be found lurking amid the trees or that a young woman made of mud can converse with a heron. At a time when our world is again struggling with hatred of those with a different faith, a different skin color, a different understanding of what “patriotism” means, this beautiful, pitiless book forces us to confront just how easy it can be to deny people their humanity in the name of protecting our own. Hoffman shows that the atrocities we visit on one other can be made to sound perfectly rational: “necessary to national security” or “guarding” us from that terrifying Other, that threat lurking just outside the gates. As Hoffman puts it: “That was how evil spoke. It made its own corrupt sense; it swore that the good were evil, and that the evil had come to save mankind. It brought up ancient fears and scattered them on the street like pearls.”

— Diane Roberts
2020 finalist judge

 

Book Excerpt


This is what it was to be human, to be at the will of fate. This is what it felt like to lose a child you loved who had loved you in return. She was awake and brought to life. Being human came to her unbidden, it took hold of her, and changed her. She was helpless against time, the owner of a fragile heart. She felt her pulse and the human blood in her veins. This is what love did. It was a miracle and a sacrifice.

2021 Fiction Runner-up

Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai - The Mountains Sing

“When I was a small child, I stood on the dirt road of my village in Việt Nam looking at the devastation around me, as well as at the people who had lost their family members or their arms and legs. I told myself, The human race would not be so stupid to wage another war. Yet growing up, I realized that I was naïve and that humans always find excuses for wars and conflicts. The Mountains Sing is my yearning for peace, for human compassion, for forgiveness, for hope, and for humans to love humans more. I echo my call for peace in the form of this novel, through the words of my character Hương: “Somehow I was sure that if people were willing to read each other, and see the light of other cultures, there would be no war on earth.” It is my great honor to stand alongside extraordinary writers who have been acknowledged by the Dayton Literary Peace Prize for their contribution to peace, social justice, and global understanding. May we work together to promote diversity in literature, give space for different ethnic groups to tell their own stories, appreciate our differences, and connect hearts and minds with our writing so that one day, our world can be ONE.”

— Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai              

Bio

Born into the Vietnam War in 1973, Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai grew up witnessing the war’s devastation and its aftermath. She worked as a street seller and rice farmer before winning a scholarship to attend university in Australia. She is the author of eight books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction in Vietnamese, and her writing has been translated and published in more than 15 countries. She has been honored with some of the top literary awards of Vietnam including the Poetry of the Year 2010 Award from the Hanoi Writers Association. Her debut novel and first book in English, The Mountains Sing, was awarded a Lannan Literary Awards Fellowship for contribution to peace and reconciliation and BookBrowse Best Debut Award for 2020. It was named a best book of 2020 by more than ten media establishments including NPR. Quế Mai has a PhD in Creative Writing from Lancaster University. For more information, visit her at http://www.nguyenphanquemai.com

 

Book Excerpt

 

That night, I crawled under our blanket, listening to Grandma’s prayers and her wooden bell’s rhythmic chime. She prayed for Buddha and Heaven to help end the war. She prayed for the safe return of my parents and uncles. I closed my eyes, joining Grandma in her prayer. Were my parents alive? Did they miss me as much as I missed them?

We wanted to stay home, but urgent announcements from public broadcasts ordered all citizens to evacuate Hà Nội. Grandma was to lead her students and their families to a remote place in the mountains where she’d continue her classes.

“Grandma, where’re we going?” I asked.

“To Hòa Bình Village. The bombs won’t be able to find us there, Guava.”

I wondered who’d chosen such a lovely name for a village. Hòa Bình were the words carried on the wings of doves painted on the classroom walls at my school. Hòa Bình bore the blue color in my dream – the color of my parents returning home. Hòa Bình meant something simple, intangible, yet most valuable to us: “peace.”

Citation

In Beloved, Toni Morrison says, “This is not a story to pass on.” She doesn’t mean it, of course: the traumas of slavery and war must be exposed. The cruelties of history must be told and retold if we are to both understand how the past shapes our present and work to build a more humane, more just, future.

In The Mountains Sing, Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai takes us on a journey through 20th century Vietnam: the remnants of French rule, the brutal “land reforms” of the 1950s when many of the “bourgeoisie” were executed by their own neighbors, the war with America, and the long process of putting a nation back together. Four generations of the Trần family struggle to survive in each new difficult reality as matriarch Diệu Lan does  whatever she must to protect her kin. As one of our narrators, she recounts her life to her granddaughter Hương, at one point saying, “you’re old enough to know that history will write itself in people’s memories, and as long as those memories live on, we can have faith that we can do better.” Hương, in turn, presents her own story, as a child, then an angry teenager, and eventually an adult who comes to understand the compromises her grandmother had to make to protect her children and grandchildren. The Trầns’ loyalties are complex and sometimes contradictory, but even in the face of war’s atrocities, they find a way out of their pain through forgiveness and love.

Quế Mai’s style is powerful yet unornamented: as a poet she knows how to reduce an image down to its best essence and then surprise us with a glimpse of the transcendent. Americans have shelves full of books about what we call the Vietnam War from the perspective of Americans. Quế Mai tells a story we haven’t heard before – a story from north of the 17th Parallel, from a country we saw as our enemy. The Trần family are faced with daily horrors: B-52s, murder, rape, Agent Orange, and betrayal. Yet moments of beauty break through like a wildflower through a broken pavement. The world is, after all, full of wonders, like the magic sword that once saved Vietnam in a fairy-tale Hương’s grandmother tells her. Displaced but not demoralized, Diêu Lan draws from a deep well of grace. As Quế Mai says in her poem “Moving,” “I shudder to bloom/ I grow my fruit from my bleeding roots/ I am a tree that uproots itself.”

— Diane Roberts
2021 finalist judge

2020 Fiction Runner-up

Christy Lefteri - The Beekeeper of Aleppo

Empathy is the beginning of peace. It is the seed from which peace grows. When we can say – I feel your pain, I might not know you but I will never add to your pain, –  the possibility of peace comes into existence. Without empathy, peace is impossible; it is drowned in conflict, ideologies, prejudice, hatred, apathy. Without empathy, peace is dead. Powerful stories can cut through prejudices and bring us into the heart and mind of the other. Reading and hearing stories can help us to imagine lives that might otherwise be unimaginable. Stories can unite the self with the other, it can blur the lines and boundaries we make and force upon the world. A story can challenge our reactions to the thousands of images in the media, the streams of dehumanised people. It can awaken our emotions, make us focus on an individual so that they are no longer a face in a crowd. It can help us to imagine the feelings of fear and loss, devastation and trauma, love and hope and all the other emotions in between. A story can melt our hearts and our prejudices. If we can feel the pain of others and walk in their shoes, that’s a powerful starting place and my hope was that The Beekeeper of Aleppo would be able to achieve that. 

Empathy can move us to act when possible. It can help us to be mindful, and to take a step back, to give another space and the right to live happily and safely. Empathy is the starting point of peace and peace is a complex puzzle that needs to extend to the entire world and the entirety of living beings upon this world. So, when we can say I promise never to add to your pain and I will look after that promise as I look after my own life – then peace will blossom, one flower at a time.

— Christy Lefteri              

Bio

Brought up in London, Christy Lefteri is the child of Cypriot refugees. She holds a PhD in creative writing from Brunel University where she is now a lecturer. Her previous novel, the international bestseller The Beekeeper of Aleppo was born out of her time working as a volunteer at a UNICEF-supported refugee center. She is also the author of A Watermelon, a Fish and a Bible, which was longlisted for the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.

Citation

We’ve never had access to so much knowledge about the world, all the upheavals and struggles happening somewhere far away. But the torrent of information often overwhelms our capacity to pause and seek out connections. Nowadays, it’s become easier to focus on the regime, the visible instruments of ideology and repression, rather than the everyday experiences of those simply trying to survive. Christy Lefteri’s The Beekeeper of Aleppo is a book of great ambition and haunting subtlety. It tells the story of Nuri, a beekeeper who lives with his wife, Atra, and son, Sami, in the hills of Aleppo, where he raises bees alongside his cousin, Mustafa. But civil war destroys the Syrian city. The violence claims Sami’s life and Atra’s eyesight. Without even the chance to properly mourn their son, Nuri and Atra flee, embarking on a journey through Europe. They dream of a reunion with Mustafa, who fled Aleppo before them, and who has started an apiary in Yorkshire, where he teaches beekeeping to local refugees.

The Beekeeper of Aleppo is full of extremes. There is the global scale of state violence and the refugee crisis that ensues; there are the intimate, closely guarded memories, feelings, and tastes that keep Nuri and Afra alive throughout their adventure. Some people treat them with startling generosity; others despicably prey on their desperation. There are superhuman risks undertaken for modest visions of what might come. Where Lefteri particularly excels are the moments that require a softer touch, protecting the integrity of the characters themselves, especially as Nuri’s superhuman devotion slowly gives way to feverish mania, and Atra, an artist who can no longer see her works, gains a different kind of vision.

This is a book about global issues—conflict, the life-or-death arbitrariness of national borders, the Kafka-esque bureaucratic mazes that exhaust, rather than protects, those in trouble. Yet Lefteri locates hope and transcendence in small gestures, minor hopes. It lifts you from the page. This is a journey where the guides are the ghosts of people, following a map dotted with ghosts of places. Yet the destination remains, alighted by the tiny bee’s path, bringing sweetness wherever it goes, ensuring our survival through its pollination, humble and diligent, serving a cause greater than itself.   

— Hua Hsu
2020 finalist judge

2021 Nonfiction Winner

Ariana Neumann - When Time Stopped: A Memoir of My Father's War and What Remains

Not so long ago a young girl detective became a mother and a writer. She then set out to solve a childhood mystery and to understand her own beloved father. Although he had lived into his 80s, he had never been able to speak about his past and she longed to fill his silences.

Her search took her across continents and through decades, via the Venezuela of the ‘70s back to wartime Europe. She traced dozens of people and amassed hundreds of documents, letters, photos, memoirs. At times she was scared that the darkness of the stories that she uncovered would overwhelm her.  But, slowly, she realized that amid the horrors were glimmers of hope.  What shone through were the true tales of love, defiance and courage, the many stories from people that couldn’t tell their own.

Ultimately, this quest let her understand her father, discover her own roots, and reclaim a family that had not been so much forgotten as shrouded in silence. That sense of peace, of understanding and of communion, that emerged from learning stories of those that came before her became the greatest of gifts.

People from all cultures have always told stories. It is how we convey and record meaningful moments, how we pass on wisdom, create identity, shape memories. Stories form who we are as individuals, as families, as societies. Stories anchor us and give us purpose, they light the road that we have travelled and show us the way forth. They allow us to cross time and borders, to recognize ourselves in others. They help us grasp ideas that can be complex or abstract, by setting them in our shared experience. Peace is harmony. Peace is the mutual understanding for which stories are the perfect catalyst.

The Holocaust did not start with invasions and massacres. Like most genocides, it began with an almost imperceptible process of dehumanisation, with petty laws that concerned parks, typewriters and umbrellas. It started with everyday words, terminology that cemented alienation, that perpetuated stereotypes and metastasized ignorance and misconception.

Stories are powerful. They engage our imaginations and emotions, and remain with us in a way that data and facts do not. People forget numbers but they rarely forget stories.

Writing stories allows us to humanise history, to learn from it. Elie Wiesel, a recipient of the Dayton Literary Peace Prize Lifetime Achievement Award, said in 2001, “We tell these stories because perhaps we know that not to listen, not to want to know, would lead you to indifference, and indifference is never an answer.”

We can use words to continue to divide and fragment ourselves or we can use them to eradicate otherness. It is crucial that we use them to tell stories that build bridges and craft bonds of community. We have got to choose the stories that we tell and the stories that we listen to. We must choose to fill the silence with harmonies. We must never be indifferent.

(And the story of the little girl detective? Well, it has a happy ending. Her book about her father won an illustrious literary award in Dayton, Ohio, for which she is profoundly honored and grateful.)

— Ariana Neumann

Bio

Ariana Neumann was born and grew up in Venezuela. She previously worked as a foreign correspondent for Venezuela’s The Daily Journal and her writing has also appeared in The European. She currently lives in London with her family. When Time Stopped is her first book.

Citation

In a riveting nonfiction narrative that has the nimble pacing and plot twists of a detective novel, Ariana Neumann doggedly unravels the details of the remarkable life of her father, Has. With charm and courage, he escaped the Holocaust and left Czechoslovakia to eventually established himself in Venezuela, where his daughter begins her search to understand him and finds her way to the fates of the Neumann family in Nazi Germany. After her father’s death, Ariana Neumann inherits a box from him that contains secrets—most notably, his identification card under a different name—and mysteries that set her off uncovering thrilling and harrowing stories of her family’s flight from the Nazis.

Neumann delivers a poignant memoir full of love and discovery, and gives us a moving meditation on memory, time, and survival. She is part-detective, part-archivist, all-determination, and seamlessly weaves together telling details from letters, diaries, interviews, photographs, emails, and snatched conversations. As she solves the puzzle of whom her father was and what his family went through, she draws us into the suspense and joy of her search and beautifully reconstructs the history of her family and their times. The book sparkles with her genius at making connections between stories and histories.

The nitty-gritty of Neumann’s investigations are as compelling as the moving portraits of her family: we are given stories of striking intimacy, rendered with wit and anticipation and sensitivity, and are invited to turn our attention to the revelations as much as the telling silences. Of the many Holocaust memoirs I’ve read, none has been as gripping as Neumann’s extraordinary story. 

– Garnette Cadogan
2021 finalist judges

 

Book Excerpt

 

As I studied the map in search of a way forward to the buildings, I noticed that
the fence was swaying. It was shaking. My father’s fingers were clutching
through the wire diamonds and he was sobbing silently. He could only utter
between short gasps of breath, only whisper over and over that this was where
he said goodbye. I did not know what to do. I called him Papi as I had always
done, but I did not think he could hear me. I gently unclenched one of his hands from the wire and stood between him and the fence. I held him and reminded him I was there. For an instant he leaned the side of his face on my head. We stood there frozen, holding one another, him petrified by his memories and me terrified of the monsters that I sensed were lurking there, unseen.

He quickly regained his composure and whispered:

“Thank you, Coquinita. It’s fine. I’m fine.”

I tried to catch and hold his gaze whilst I told him I loved him. I realize now that there are sorrows that cannot be conveyed, wounds with which you learn to live but which never completely heal. I was nineteen at the time and thought that words and love could assuage every sadness. I ventured that I was there to listen if he ever wanted to speak. He never did.

2020 Nonfiction Winner

Chanel Miller - Know My Name

“In court, you testify in a wooden box and fear your words will be snuffed out at any moment. It’s that constant extinguishing that really wears you out. All that competing just to speak. Sitting down to write was the first time I could hear myself. Two o’clock in the morning, sitting in front of a blinking cursor on a blank screen in the quiet was the best thing that’s ever happened to me. No interruptions, nothing occurring, save for a small fan whirring. And then my book came out, solid as a brick, and I was still a nervous person. But one day I walked past a bookstore and saw my book, postured and proud and forward facing. And I understood that even if I slipped off the face of the earth tomorrow, my story would remain. I am in satchels and backpacks. I have fallen off of bedside tables, half tucked under the bed. My voice is indestructible. And there is a girl out there, who may be feeling as suffocated or hidden as I once was. Late at night, she’ll take out my book, and we’ll talk about the hardest parts, lay bare our buried feelings, and nobody can touch that space, and that to me is peace.”

— Chanel Miller

 

Bio

Chanel Miller is a writer and artist who received her BA in Literature from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Her critically acclaimed memoir, KNOW MY NAME, was a New York Times bestseller, a New York Times Book Review Notable Book, and a National Book Critics Circle Award winner, as well as a best book of 2019 in Time, the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, NPR, and People, among others. She is a 2019 Time Next 100 honoree and a 2016 Glamour Woman of the Year honoree under her pseudonym, “Emily Doe.”

Citation

In June of 2016, BuzzFeed published a Victim Impact Statement that, within four days, was viewed by almost eleven million people. The author was “Emily Doe,” an anonymous young woman who had been sexually assaulted while she lay, intoxicated to the point of unconsciousness, behind a dumpster at Stanford University.

Know My Name is a dazzling memoir by that young woman. This time, the byline is not Emily Doe but Chanel Miller. As her title suggests, Miller is determined to tell us exactly who she is. Her court-assigned pseudonym safeguarded her privacy, but it also erased her individuality. In Know My Name, we get to know Miller as a complete human being, someone with parents, a sister, a boyfriend, a full set of personality quirks, and considerable talent as a writer and visual artist. She does not object to the word “victim,” but she objects to being seen only as a victim—someone flattened into a stereotype by the crime, by the court system, by social media, and by the reductive assumptions of strangers.

One way Chanel Miller reclaims her narrative is by refusing to conform to our expectations. “Victims exist in a society that tells us our purpose is to be an inspiring story,” she writes. She declines to serve that purpose. She therefore does not tell us she is “healed” or “redeemed” when in fact she is still in pain. Her account of what she went through during her assailant’s trial is so harrowing that it is likely to discourage other victims from pressing charges. But despite her fierce subversion of the standard uplifting story line, Miller gives those victims a gift more valuable than inspiration: she reduces their stigma by powerfully and publicly rejecting her own. 

It is difficult to write well about a traumatic event, especially one so recent. And the author is so young! But this book is more than a tirade; it is a work of art. Miller’s voice has extraordinary range, from furious to tender to witty to contemplative. We can expect to hear more of it in future decades, writing on a wide variety of topics. American literature should be honored to know Chanel Miller’s name.

– Anne Fadiman
2020 finalist judges

 

Book Excerpt


That night, lying on my sister’s frameless mattress on the floor, the churning laundry machine in the background, I could finally rest. I was content to have earned this moment of peace. I pulled out my small red notebook. I illuminated the pages with my phone, and wrote, I feel like I’ve already won. It was a small nod to myself; I had done the impossible, showed up. Those who watched me cry on the stand might have perceived me as fragile, but I believed it to be the quiet beginning of my strength. I did what I’d never thought I could do, had somehow been spit out on the other side, still far from the finish line, but alive. Side by side, we went to sleep.

2021 Nonfiction Runner-up

Jordan Ritter Conn - The Road from Raqqa

“Reporting, by definition, relies on voices outside the author’s own, so the first and most vital part of my job is the act of listening. It may seem naive to think that simply listening to others’ experiences can help move us toward peace — interpersonally, culturally, or politically — but I think it can be a first step. The quiet act that precedes the urgent action necessary to work toward a more peaceful world. In writing this book, I had the joy of listening to the stories of Riyad and Bashar Alkasem, two brothers with diverging journeys away from Raqqa, Syria, the once-gorgeous and now-destroyed city they call home. In lives marked by war, each of them has worked to build a sense of peace. In their families, their communities, and inside themselves.

— Jordan Ritter Conn

Bio

Jordan Ritter Conn is a staff writer for The Ringer. He previously worked at Grantland and ESPN: The Magazine, and he has written for The New York Times and Sports Illustrated. He is a two-time finalist for the Livingston Award, and his work has been cited or recognized by The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Slate.

 

Book Excerpt


Raqqa. Home, or something like it. He didn’t know why he was going, not really. Sure, he had an answer when people asked. His family was in danger. They needed his help. It sounded simple when phrased in those terms, as if the pull across continents were no more than obligation, a dutiful son and brother looking out for his own. There was something else, though, some tug he’d felt ever since the war began. Sometimes he would lie awake in his quiet home in his quiet Tennessee town, next to his southern-belle wife and just rooms away from his two American sons, and he would wonder if it had been worth it to remain here. He couldn’t imagine life without his wife or his boys, but sometimes he imagined them all living out a different story, back in the city he still called “my soul.”

Citation

In this suspenseful work of narrative nonfiction, journalist Jordan Ritter Conn takes us smack into the middle of the Syrian civil war through the story of two brothers from a distinguished family in Raqqa, a small city on the northeast bank of the Euphrates. Both brothers have trained as lawyers, but there the resemblance ends. The elder is a risk-taker who lights out for the U.S. and becomes an American citizen; the younger is a traditionalist who, reluctant to leave the place his great-great-great-great grandfather settled in the 18th century, remains until ISIS finally forces his hand, at which point he leads his family in a harrowing escape by land and sea.

Jordan Ritter Conn tackles large subjects – culture, family, war, resettlement, xenophobia – through the skillful accretion of well-reported details. He captures the confusion, exhaustion, and excitement of the immigrant experience through the elder brother’s first months in America – finding a job as a dishwasher, opening a checking account, losing the document that would enable him to enroll in college, falling in love. Similarly, Conn’s empathetic depiction of the younger brother’s attachment to Raqqa enables us to understand how hard it is to give up one’s home even when every bit of evidence suggests it is too dangerous to stay.

It is impossible to open a newspaper today without reading accounts of war and migration, but The Road from Raqqa provides something entirely different: a story so intimate that it forces us to watch from what feels like an inch away. Through Conn’s richly textured narrative, we come to know the two main characters as three-dimensional human beings; we grieve the loss of their beautiful city; and we cheer the resilience with which, each in his own way, they embrace difficult new lives.

– Anne Fadiman
2021 finalist judges

2020 Nonfiction Runner-up

Jennifer Eberhardt - Biased

“Bias does its work in the shadows and in the open, reworking our brains, framing and distorting our relationships with each other, erecting barriers that limit how we experience the world. Until we understand both its mechanics and its menace, we’re hostage to its power and cut off from the full measure of our own humanity. By sharing science, stories and history, the written word can dismantle our illusions and prompt the kind of soul searching that inspires hope and courage and fuels a thirst for justice, lighting the path to authentic peace.

— Jennifer Eberhardt

Bio

Dr. Jennifer Eberhardt is a professor of psychology at Stanford and a recipient of a 2014 MacArthur “genius” grant. She has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and was named one of Foreign Policy’s 100 Leading Global Thinkers. She is co-founder and co-director of SPARQ, a Stanford Center that brings together researchers and practitioners to address significant social problems.
 

Book Excerpt


Bias has sought refuge inside us. In Charlottesville, it ripped through the pact we’ve made to pretend that blatant bigotry is a relic of the past. In truth, bias has been biding its time in an implicit world—in a place where we need not acknowledge it to ourselves or to others, even as it touches our soul and drives our behavior.

In this country, blacks have become a reminder of the racial bias that we refuse to see. Indeed, blacks have become symbolic of the unwanted. This is even apparent on college campuses, the setting for the construction of a new generation. I talked with black students who felt exhausted from fending off narratives that question their humanity. Those narratives are still operating across the country and around the world. They circulate in our minds and animate our culture. They still work to help free people live in peace.

Citation

Thriving on speed and ambiguity, bias flourishes on social media, deteriorating our public discourse, making conversations and a healthy exchange of ideas difficult and, often, noxious. Bias likewise impacts any of a hundred decisions each of us make every day, poisoning our ability to make informed decisions carefully, or to evaluate threats rationally. In some situations, how people wield bias can be a life-or-death situation. Our overreliance on bias, conflating it as fact, poses one of the greatest dangers to global society today.

In prose both clear-eyed and empathetic, coupled with a storyteller’s gift to empower her readers, Jennifer Eberhardt’s Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do, offers us a crucial and timely examination of how bias and stereotypes impact decisions both trivial and of enormous consequence. A social psychologist at Stanford University, Eberhardt has spent years researching how “unconscious associations can shape our reality” that impact how we identify others, and ourselves. Her book draws on her life’s work of studying human behavior, which includes over fifteen years teaching police officers to recognize and understand how implicit bias can inform their interactions with communities they are hired to protect and serve, and researching how centuries of racist narratives and iconography have seeded bias, even at an unconscious level.

Eberhardt writes “As social threats rise, cultural norms shift, and group polarization turns extreme, we are being subjected to even more brazen displays of dehumanization—magnifying our worst impulses. We can’t afford to let them flourish.” At this pivotal moment in history, Eberhardt’s Bias offers real-world solutions to facilitate essential dialogues that have the potential to redeem and validate unheard or unspoken experiences, and to help each of us understand how to listen – to see – one another as equals. A remarkable book to navigate living through extraordinary times.

Excerpts:

  • “Neither our evolutionary path nor our present culture dooms us to be held hostage by bias. Change requires a kind of open-minded attention that is well within our reach.”
  • “We all have the capacity to make change—within ourselves, in the world, and in our relationship to that world.”

“The narratives that prop up inequality can help us to live less troubled in a troubling world. But they also narrow our vision and strand ‘others’ on the wrong side of the opportunity divide. When our comfort comes at their expense, that’s a social cost that ultimately shortchanges everyone.”

– Brando Skyhorse
2020 finalist judges

2021 Finalists

Fiction

Deacon King Kong by James McBride (Riverhead)

In September 1969, a fumbling, cranky old church deacon known as Sportcoat shuffles into the courtyard of the Cause Houses housing project in south Brooklyn, pulls a .38 from his pocket, and in front of everybody shoots the project’s drug dealer at point-blank range. The reasons for this desperate burst of violence and the consequences that spring from it lie at the heart of Deacon King Kong, James McBride’s funny, moving novel and his first since his National Book Award-winning The Good Lord Bird. In Deacon King Kong, McBride brings to vivid life the people affected by the shooting: the victim, the African-American and Latinx residents who witnessed it, the white neighbors, the local cops assigned to investigate, the members of the Five Ends Baptist Church where Sportcoat was deacon, the neighborhood’s Italian mobsters, and Sportcoat himself.

Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart (Grove Press)

Winner of the 2020 Booker Prize and a finalist for many additional awards, Douglas Stuart’s ascendant debut novel Shuggie Bain has worked its way into readers’ hearts. Shuggie Bain tells the unforgettable story of young Hugh “Shuggie” Bain, a sweet and lonely boy who spends his 1980s childhood in run-down public housing in Glasgow, Scotland. As Shuggie cares for his alcoholic mother, he confronts the question of the lengths he will go to save the person he loves, before he must save himself. A heartbreaking story of addiction, sexuality, and love, Shuggie Bain is an epic portrayal of a working-class family that is rarely seen in fiction. Recalling the work of Édouard Louis, Alan Hollinghurst, Frank McCourt, and Hanya Yanagihara, it is a blistering debut by a brilliant novelist who has a powerful and important story to tell. 

The Mountains Sings by Nguyen Phan Que Mai (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill)

The Mountains Sing tells an enveloping, multigenerational tale of the Trần family, set against the backdrop of the Việt Nam War. Trần Diệu Lan, who was born in 1920, was forced to flee her family farm with her six children during the Land Reform as the Communist government rose in the North. Years later in Hà Nội, her young granddaughter, Hương, comes of age as her parents and uncles head off down the Hồ Chí Minh Trail to fight in a conflict that tore apart not just her beloved country, but also her family. Vivid, gripping, and steeped in the language and traditions of Việt Nam, The Mountains Sing brings to life the human costs of this conflict from the underrepresented point of view of Vietnamese women and children, while showing us the true power of kindness and hope.

Valentine by Elizabeth Wetmore (Harper)

In 1976, Odessa stands on the cusp of the next great oil boom. While the Texan town’s men embrace the coming prosperity, its women intimately know and fear the violence that always seems to follow.

In the early hours of the morning after Valentine’s Day, fourteen-year-old Gloria Ramírez appears on the front porch of Mary Rose Whitehead’s ranch house, barely alive after an attack in a nearby oil field. This act of brutality is tried in the churches and barrooms of Odessa before it can reach a court of law, and when justice is evasive, the stage is set for a showdown with potentially devastating consequences.

A haunting exploration of the intersections of violence and race, class and region, Valentine plumbs the depths of darkness, yet offers a window into beauty and hope.

The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich (HarperCollins Publishers)

Thomas Wazhashk is the night watchman at the Turtle Mountain Jewel Bearing Plant in rural North Dakota, and a Chippewa Council member who is trying to understand the consequences of a “termination” bill, threatening the rights of Native Americans, on its way to U.S. Congress.

Patrice Paranteau makes jewel bearings at the same plant. Patrice and her mother struggle to survive on the pittance she earns with no help from her terrorizing, alcoholic father or beloved older sister who has run away and rumored to have had a baby. Determined to find Vera, Patrice makes a fateful trip to Minneapolis where she comes face-to-face with unexpected exploitation and violence, endangering her life in the process.

Illuminating the loves, lives, desires, and ambitions of these memorable characters with compassion, wit, and intelligence, The Night Watchman is a majestic work of fiction.

We Germans by Alexander Starritt (Hatchette Book Group)

In the throes of the Second World War, young Meissner, a college student with dreams of becoming a scientist, is drafted into the German army and sent to the Eastern Front. But soon his regiment collapses in the face of the onslaught of the Red Army, hell-bent on revenge in its race to Berlin.

Many decades later, now an old man reckoning with his past, Meissner pens a letter to his grandson explaining his actions, his guilt as a Nazi participator, and the difficulty of life after war. Found among his effects after his death, the letter is at once a thrilling story of adventure and a questing rumination on the moral ambiguity of war. In his years spent fighting the Russians and attempting afterward to survive the Gulag, Meissner recounts a life lived in perseverance and atonement. Wracked with shame—both for himself and for Germany—the grandfather explains his dark rationale, exults in the courage of others, and blurs the boundaries of right and wrong.

Nonfiction

Carry by Toni Jensen (Penguin Random House)

A powerful, poetic memoir about what it means to exist as an Indigenous woman in America, told in snapshots of the author’s encounters with gun violence.

Toni Jensen grew up around guns: As a girl, she learned to shoot birds in rural Iowa with her father, a card-carrying member of the NRA. As an adult, she’s had guns waved in her face near Standing Rock, and felt their silent threat on the concealed-carry campus where she teaches. And she has always known that in this she is not alone. As a Métis woman, she is no stranger to the violence enacted on the bodies of Indigenous women, on Indigenous land, and the ways it is hidden, ignored, forgotten. In prose at once forensic and deeply emotional, Toni Jensen shows herself to be a brave new voice and a fearless witness to her own difficult history—as well as to the violent cultural landscape in which she finds her coordinates. With each chapter, Carry reminds us that surviving in one’s country is not the same as surviving one’s country.

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson (Penguin Random House)

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents is a masterful exploration of the unseen forces of division in our country at a time of existential crisis. Wilkerson demonstrates, through deeply researched history and a multilayered narrative, how America has been shaped by an unspoken system of human ranking that has riven us for centuries. With clear-sighted rigor, she unearths the eight pillars of caste across civilizations, and demonstrates how our own era of intensifying upheaval has arisen as a consequence. Documenting intersections with India and Nazi Germany, Caste is a crucial reexamination of American life, an unforgettable portrait of a society bearing the weight of inherited hierarchy.  It is an urgent call for us to transcend these artificial divisions, to get to the root of injustice and to inspire new pathways of understanding so that we may together work toward resolution.

See No Stranger by Valarie Kaur (Random House Publishing Group)

“The future is dark. What if this is not the darkness of the tomb—but the darkness of the womb? What if this is our greatest transition?” With these words, Valarie Kaur ignited the hearts of millions. In See No Stranger, the renowned Sikh activist, filmmaker, and civil rights lawyer declares revolutionary love as the call of our time. Drawing from the wisdom of sages, scientists, and activists—and her own riveting journey as a brown girl growing up in California farmland; as a young adult galvanized by the murders of Sikhs after 9/11; as a law student fighting injustices in prisons; as an activist supporting communities recovering from xenophobic attacks; and as a woman trying to heal from experiences with sexual assault and police violence—Kaur discovers radical, joyful practices of revolutionary love that just might change the world.

The Beauty in Breaking by Michele Harper (Penguin Publishing Group)

The Beauty in Breaking is the poignant true story of Harper’s journey toward self-healing. Each of the patients Harper writes about taught her something important about recuperation and recovery. How to let go of fear even when the future is murky. How to tell the truth when it’s simpler to overlook it. How to understand that compassion isn’t the same as justice. As she shines a light on the systemic disenfranchisement of the patients she treats as they struggle to maintain their health and dignity, Harper comes to understand the importance of allowing ourselves to make peace with the past as we draw support from the present. In this hopeful, moving, and beautiful book, she passes along the precious, necessary lessons that she has learned as a daughter, a woman, and a physician.

The Road to Raqqa by Jordan Ritter Conn (Penguin Random House)

Crossing years and continents, The Road from Raqqa is the harrowing story of the road to reunion for two Syrian brothers who—despite a homeland at war and an ocean between them—hold fast to the bonds of family.

The Alkasem brothers, Riyad and Bashar, spend their childhood in Raqqa, the Syrian city that would later become the capital of ISIS. Wanting to expand his notion of government and justice, Riyad moves to the United States and falls in love with a Southern belle. Years pass, and at the height of Syria’s civil war, fearing for his family’s safety halfway across the world, he risks his own life by making a dangerous trip back to Raqqa. Bashar, meanwhile, in Syria. After his older brother moves to America, Bashar embarks on a brilliant legal career under the corrupt Assad government Reluctant to abandon his comfortable (albeit conflicted) life, he fails to perceive the threat of ISIS until it’s nearly too late.

The Road from Raqqa 
brings us into the lives of two brothers bound by their love for each other and for the war-ravaged city they call home.

When Time Stopped by Ariana Neumann (Simon & Schuster)

In 1941, the first Neumann family member was taken by the Nazis, arrested in German-occupied Czechoslovakia for bathing in a stretch of river forbidden to Jews. He was transported to Auschwitz. Eighteen days later his prisoner number was entered into the morgue book.

Of thirty-four Neumann family members, twenty-five were murdered by the Nazis. One of the survivors was Hans Neumann, who, to escape the German death net, traveled to Berlin and hid in plain sight under the Gestapo’s eyes. What Hans experienced was so unspeakable that, when he built an industrial empire in Venezuela, he couldn’t bring himself to talk about it. All his daughter Ariana knew was that something terrible had happened.

When Hans died, he left Ariana a small box filled with letters, diary entries, and other memorabilia. Ten years later Ariana finally summoned the courage to have the letters translated, and she began reading. What she discovered launched her on a worldwide search that would deliver indelible portraits of a family loving, finding meaning, and trying to survive amid the worst that can be imagined.

A “beautifully told story of personal discovery” (John le Carré), When Time Stopped is an unputdownable detective story and an epic family memoir, spanning nearly ninety years and crossing oceans. Neumann brings each relative to vivid life, and this “gripping, expertly researched narrative will inspire those looking to uncover their own family histories” (Publishers Weekly).

2020 Finalists

Fiction

10 Minutes, 38 Seconds by Elif Shafak (Bloomsbury)

In the pulsating moments after she was murdered and left in a dumpster outside Istanbul, Tequila Leila enters a state of heightened awareness. Her heart has stopped beating but her brain is still active for 10 minutest, 38 seconds. While the sun rises and her friends sleep soundly nearby, she remembers the power of friendship in her life and the lives of others, outcasts like her.

Lost Children by Valeria Luiselli (Alfred Knopf)

A mother and father set out with their two children, a boy and a girl, driving from New York to Arizona in the heat of summer. On the radio, there is news about an “immigration crisis”: thousands of kids trying to cross the southwestern border into the United States but getting detained–or lost in the desert along the way. At the same time, those in the car face a crisis of their own, and as they travel west, the bonds between them begin to fray. Told from multiple points of view and blending texts, sounds, and images, Lost Children Archive is an astonishing feat of literary virtuosity and a richly engaging story of how we document our experiences and how we remember the things that matter to us the most.

The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri (Ballantine PRH)

The Winner of the 2020 Aspen Words Literary Prize, this unforgettable novel puts human faces on the Syrian war with the immigrant story of a beekeeper, his wife, and the triumph of spirit when the world becomes unrecognizable. Heather Morris, author of The Tattooist of Auschwitz, says: “A beautifully crafted novel of international significance that has the capacity to have us open our eyes.”

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead (Doubleday)

In this bravura follow-up to the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award-winning #1 New York Times bestseller The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead brilliantly dramatizes another strand of American history through the story of two boys sentenced to a hellish reform school in Jim Crow-era Florida.

The World That We Knew by Alice Hoffman (Simon & Schuster)

With The World That We Knew, Alice Hoffman delivers a sweeping novel that follows three unforgettable young women in Berlin in 1941 who must act with courage and love to survive. Hanni Kohn knows she must send her twelve-year-old daughter away to save her from the Nazi regime. She finds her way to a renowned rabbi, but it’s his daughter, Ettie, who offers hope of salvation when she creates a mystical Jewish creature, a rare and unusual golem, who is sworn to protect Lea. Once Ava is brought to life, she and Lea and Ettie become eternally entwined. In a world where evil can be found at every turn, we meet remarkable characters that take us on a stunning journey of loss and resistance, in a place where all roads lead past the Angel of Death and love is never ending.

We Cast a Shadow by Maurice Ruffin (One World)

This electrifying, hallucinatory novel is at once a keen satire of surviving racism in America and a profoundly moving family story. At its center is a father who just wants his son to thrive in a broken world. Maurice Carlos Ruffin’s work evokes the clear vision of Ralph Ellison, the dizzying menace of Franz Kafka, and the crackling prose of Vladimir Nabokov. We Cast a Shadow fearlessly shines a light on the violence we inherit, and on the desperate thing we do for the ones we love.

Nonfiction

Biased by Jennifer L. Eberhardt (Viking)

In Biased, Dr. Eberhardt presents her ground-breaking and often shocking research and data on an urgent issue and demonstrates how our unconscious biases powerfully shape our behavior, leading to racial disparities from the classroom to the courtroom to the boardroom.  Refusing to shy away from the tragic consequences of prejudice, Eberhardt addresses how racial bias is not the fault of or restricted to a few “bad apples,” but present at all levels of society in media, education, and business.  Eberhardt reminds us that racial bias is a human problem—one that all people can play a role in solving.

Grace Will Lead Us Home by Jennifer Berry Hawes (St. Martin’s Press)

A deeply moving work of narrative nonfiction on the tragic shootings at the Mother Emanuel AME church in Charleston, South Carolina from Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jennifer Berry Hawes. On June 17, 2015, twelve members of the historically black Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina welcomed a young white man to their evening Bible study. He arrived with a pistol, 88 bullets, and hopes of starting a race war. Dylan Roof’s massacre of nine innocents during their closing prayer horrified the nation. Two days later, some relatives of the dead stood at Roof’s hearing and said, “I forgive you.” That grace offered the country a hopeful ending to an awful story. But for the survivors and victims’ families, the journey had just begun.

Know My Name by Chanel Miller (Viking)

In the wake of her sexual assault, little was publicly understood about Emily Doe beyond the description victim. Devoid of any true humanity in her own story, Emily felt what many survivors experience: fear, shame, isolation, and self-doubt. During the intrusive and viciously long legal battle, she rose above the legal and media apparatus that silenced and discredited her. After her assailant was sentenced to only six months in county jail, Doe’s twelve-page statement was released publicly. Her message instantly resonated with millions. Today, Emily Doe emerges under her real name, Chanel Miller, to share the full story of her trauma and recovery in Know My Name. Emotionally honest, unwavering, powerful, and eloquent, Millers exquisite memoir is a testament to the power of words to heal and effect change.

Our Man by George Packer (Knopf)

From the award-winning author of The Unwinding – the vividly told saga of the ambition, idealism, and hubris of one of the most legendary and complicated figures in recent American history, set amid the rise and fall of U.S. power from Vietnam to Afghanistan. Richard Holbrooke was brilliant, utterly self-absorbed, and possessed of almost inhuman energy and appetites. Admired and detested, he was the force behind the Dayton Accords the ended the Balkan wars, America’s greatest diplomatic achievement in the post-Cold War era. His power lay in an utter belief in himself and his idea of a muscular, generous foreign policy. From his days as a young adviser in Vietnam to his last efforts to end the war in Afghanistan, Holbrooke embodied the postwar American impulse to take the lead on the global stage.

Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe (Doubleday)

From award-winning New Yorker staff writer Patrick Radden Keefe, a stunning, intricate narrative about a notorious killing in Northern Ireland and its devastating repercussions.  In December 1972, Jean McConville, a thirty-eight-year-old mother of ten, was dragged from her Belfast home by masked intruders, her children clinging to her legs. They never saw her again. Her abduction was one of the most notorious episodes of the vicious conflict known as The Troubles. Keefe’s mesmerizing book on the bitter conflict in Northern Ireland and its aftermath uses the McConville case as a starting point for the tale of the society wracked by a violent guerrilla war, a war whose consequences have never been reckoned with.

What You Have Heard is True by Carolyn Forche’ (Penguin Press)

What You Have Heard is True is a devastating, lyrical, and visionary memoir about a young woman’s brave choice to engage with horror in order to help others. Written by one of the most gifted poets of her generation, this is the story of a woman’s radical act of empathy, and her fateful encounter with an intriguing man who changes the course of her life.

2021 Finalist Judges

Fiction

Diane Roberts

Diane Roberts is an 8th-generation Floridian, born and bred in Tallahassee. Educated at FSU and Oxford University, she has been writing for newspapers since 1983, when she began producing columns on the legislature for the Florida Flambeau. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Times of London, the Guardian, the Washington Post, the Oxford American, Flamingo, and Garden & Gun. She was a commentator on NPR for 22 years and continues to contribute radio essays and opinion pieces to the BBC. Roberts is also the author of four books, most recently Dream State, an historical memoir of her Florida family, and Tribal: College Football and the Secret Heart of America. Tribal became a “consulting text” for ESPN’s The American Game: College Football 150, a 12-part documentary series; Roberts herself appears in a number of episodes, ranting about everything from the University of Miami’s mascot to the Sports Industrial Complex’s obsession with Notre Dame. She is currently working on a series of essays about white women.

DLPP21_headshot_Richard Bausch credit Jebb Harris

 Richard Bausch   

Richard Bausch is the author of twelve novels and eight collections of stories. He is the recipient of the 2004 PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in short fiction, and the 2012 REA Award for his contributions to that art form. His novel Peace won the Dayton Literary Peace Prize in 2009, and was adapted into the feature-length film RECON by Robert David Port in 2020. French film director Gilles Bourdos (RENOIR, AFTERWARDS, INQUIETUDES) adapted six of Bausch’s stories for his feature length film ESPECES MENACEES in 2018. Bausch has been a member of the Writing Program of Chapman University in Orange, CA since 2012.

Nonfiction

DLPP21_headshot_garnette-cadogan photo credit Eze Amos

Garnette Cadogan

Garnette Cadogan is the Tunney Lee Distinguished Lecturer in Urbanism at the School of Architecture + Planning at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a Senior Critic in the Department of Sculpture at Yale School of Art. His current research explores the promise and perils of urban life, the vitality and inequality of cities, and the challenges of pluralism. He writes about culture and the arts for various publications, and, in Fall 2017, was included in a list of 29 writers from around the world who “represent the future of new writing.” He is the editor-at-large of Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas (co-edited by Rebecca Solnit and IPK Fellow Joshua Jelly-Schapiro) and is at work on a book on walking.

Anne Fadiman

Anne Fadiman’s most recent book, The Wine Lover’s Daughter: A Memoir, was an NPR and Library Journal Best Book of the Year. Fadiman is also the author of two books of essays, Ex Libris and At Large and At Small, as well as The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, an account of a cross-cultural conflict between a family of Hmong refugees and their daughter’s physicians, which won a National Book Critics Circle Award, a Los Angeles Times Book Prize, a Boston Book Review Prize, and a Salon Book Award. Fadiman has received National Magazine Awards for both Essays and Reporting. The former editor of The American Scholar, she is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Francis Writer-in-Residence at Yale. 

2020 Finalist Judges

Fiction

Diane Roberts

Diane Roberts is an 8th-generation Floridian, born and bred in Tallahassee. Educated at FSU and Oxford University, she has been writing for newspapers since 1983, when she began producing columns on the legislature for the Florida Flambeau. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Times of London, the Guardian, the Washington Post, the Oxford American, Flamingo, and Garden & Gun. She was a commentator on NPR for 22 years and continues to contribute radio essays and opinion pieces to the BBC. Roberts is also the author of four books, most recently Dream State, an historical memoir of her Florida family, and Tribal: College Football and the Secret Heart of America. Tribal became a “consulting text” for ESPN’s  The American Game: College Football 150, a 12-part documentary series; Roberts herself appears in a number of episodes, ranting about everything from the University of Miami’s mascot to the Sports Industrial Complex’s obsession with Notre Dame. She is currently working on a series of essays about white women.

Hua Hsu

Hua Hsu is an associate professor of English at Vassar College and a
staff writer at the New Yorker. He is the author of A Floating Chinaman: Fantasy and Failure Across the Pacific (Harvard University Press, 2016). His writing has also appeared in Artforum, The Atlantic, Grantland, Slate, and The Wire (UK). He currently serves on the executive board of the Asian American Writers’ Workshop and the governance board of Critical Minded, a granting and learning
initiative to support cultural critics of color in the United States. He was formerly a fellow at New America and at Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library.

Nonfiction

   Brando Skyhorse   

Brando Skyhorse has a debut novel, The Madonnas of Echo Park (Simon & Schuster, 2010), that received the 2011 PEN/Hemingway Award, and the Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. The book was also a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers pick. Take This Man: A Memoir (Simon & Schuster, 2014) was an Amazon Best Book of the Month selection and named by Kirkus Reviews as one the Best Nonfiction Books of the year. Skyhorse has also co-edited an anthology, We Wear The Mask: 15 True Stories Of Passing in America (Beacon Press, 2017). He has been awarded fellowships at Ucross Foundation, the Breadloaf Writers’ Conference, and was the 2014-2015 Jenny McKean Moore Writer-In-Washington at George Washington University. Skyhorse is an Associate Professor of English at Indiana University in Bloomington.

Anne Fadiman

Anne Fadiman’s most recent book, The Wine Lover’s Daughter: A Memoir, was an NPR and Library Journal Best Book of the Year. Fadiman is also the author of two books of essays, Ex Libris and At Large and At Small, as well as The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, an account of a cross-cultural conflict between a family of Hmong refugees and their daughter’s physicians, which won a National Book Critics Circle Award, a Los Angeles Times Book Prize, a Boston Book Review Prize, and a Salon Book Award. Fadiman has received National Magazine Awards for both Essays and Reporting. The former editor of The American Scholar, she is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Francis Writer-in-Residence at Yale. 

2020 & 2021 Awards Ceremony

The 2020 & 2021 Awards Ceremony was held at 5:00 pm on Sunday, November 7th, 2021, at the Benjamin and Marian Schuster Performing Arts Center at One West Second Street in Dayton, Ohio. Gilbert King was the Master of Ceremonies.

2021 Award Winners and Runners-up

Richard C. Holbrooke Award Margaret Atwood

Fiction Award Alexander Starritt for We Germans

Nonfiction Award Ariana Neumann for When Time Stopped

Fiction Runner-up Nguyen Phan Que Mai for The Mountains Sing

Nonfiction Runner-up Jordan Ritter Conn for The Road From Raqqa

2020 Award Winners and Runners-up

Richard C. Holbrooke Award Margaret Atwood

Fiction Award Alice Hoffman for The World That We Knew

Nonfiction Award Chanel Miller for Know My Name

Fiction Runner-up Christy Lefteri for The Beekeeper of Aleppo

Nonfiction Runner-up Jennifer Eberhardt for Biased

Additional videos

Entire Awards Ceremony, November 7, 2021

2020 & 2021 Master of Ceremonies

Gilbert King

Gilbert King is the author of three books, most recently, Beneath a Ruthless Sun. His previous book, Devil in the Grove, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction in 2013. A New York Times bestseller, the book was also named runner-up for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize for nonfiction, and was a finalist for both the Chautauqua Prize and the Edgar Award.

King has written about race, civil rights, and the death penalty for the New York Times, the Washington Post, and The Atlantic, and he is a Senior Fellow with The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization covering the U.S. criminal justice system.

He is currently a fellow at The New York Public Library’s Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers, and he lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.