Dayton Literary Peace Prize

2020 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
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“If we are to understand the synthesis of literature and peace, we must first consider that the end of art is the definition of the human condition. In its ultimate realization the human condition is a state of peace. Peace is the objective of human evolution, and literature is the measure of that evolution. The history of human experience is in many ways a history of dysfunction and conflict, and literature, because it is an accurate record of that history, reflects not only what is peaceful but what is the universal hope and struggle for peace. Literature and peace are at last indivisible. They form an equation that is the definition of art and humanity.”

— N. Scott Momaday                      

 

 

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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

2020 Fiction Winner

Golnaz Hashemzadeh Bonde - What We Owe

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“My father tended to explain the unknown through stories. Not from his own imagination, but from telling whatever tales he could find—the kind of tales that dug deep into the human soul, and brought understanding. My first pet in Iran was a chicken named Papillon, and the movie Papillon is the first I remember watching. This was my father’s way of telling me about freedom—about how he, who does not have it, cannot stop fighting until he does. War and the fight for freedom eventually made us flee Iran for Sweden. How do you make sense of a new country? Well, I was only three years old but this was done through stories. Through the work of Astrid Lindgren, author of children’s literature and the creator of several universes that helped me understand the beauty and pains of Swedishness. I am forever grateful for these tales, for how reading them made me feel as if I were part of them. The strength of the written world, in creating empathy and reflection, is the most powerful thing I know. But I wish there had been tales that could tell my new country about me. Who I was, the refugee child. Why I had come, what I had brought, what my contribution would be. There were none of these stories when I grew up. I am honored to now be taking part in creating them, and thus help humanize the displaced.”

— Golnaz Hashemzadeh Bonde                        

Bio

Golnaz Hashemzadeh Bonde was born in Iran in 1983 and fled with her parents to Sweden as a three year old. She graduated from the Stockholm School of Economics and was named one of 50 Goldman Sachs Global Leaders. She has studied at Columbia Business School, and worked at McKinsey & Co for a brief period before turning to the literary and social sector.

Golnaz is the founder and director of Inkludera, a non-profit organization dedicated to fighting marginalization in society by backing social entrepreneurs who have developed pragmatic new solutions to social challenges. A central part of Inkluderas work is helping their entrepreneurs to sell their services to the public sector. Inkludera supports 10 Swedish organizations, who together work with 35,000 individuals and sell to 90 municipalities.

Golnaz is a public speaker and has contributed as an independent columnist for Sweden’s main daily newspaper, Dagens Nyheter.

She debuted as an author in 2012 with the novel, She Is Not Me (Hon är inte jag) and her second novel, What We Owe (Det varvi) is being published in 26 languages.

Golnaz lives in Stockholm together with her husband, daughter and son.

Citation

If our first loves are our mothers and our first homes our countries, What We Owe interrogates what it means to lose them both, to move about the world unanchored. 50-year-old Nahid, an Iranian woman living in Sweden, receives an unwelcome diagnosis: she has cancer and six months to live. What follows is a sustained howl of a novel, a tale of fury and love and guilt, a reckoning of revolution and motherhood, that demands our empathy with complex characters and a singularly rendered narrator.

There is an immigrant narrative we are all familiar with: immigrant flees persecution from “third world”. Immigrant succeeds in new “first world” home. Immigrant is unconditionally grateful — always grateful. Bonde complicates this narrative with reality. Choices made in desperation and fear rarely produce whole satisfaction and for every gain there are losses, some so deeply felt that no achievement can mitigate them.

In a recollection of the past, the narrator and her sisters wear brow-raising short skirts and turn a pejorative aimed their way — “witches and whores” — into a song they dance to. It is a time of hope and laughter, a contemporary Iran yet untouched by the Islamic Revolution and the novel softens enough to let the characters breathe, bringing them to full life. A constriction soon follows, a narrowing as lives are taken, options are few and some must flee. The protagonist is often harsh, speaking to her adult daughter with cruel directness, failing or refusing to temper her annoyance, even when tender situations call for it. The novel is a reflection of this refusing to look away, refusing to flinch.

This short powerful book puts “refugee” in context; it texturizes the experience. Gone are the layers of distance created by disassociating headlines, the clinical analyses of “yet another” crisis unfolding across the world. But it is more than that, so much more. It is a novel of mothers and daughters, of what they give and take from each other and how this relationship can be a loving bond or bondage. What Bonde has accomplished in this slim work is nothing short of extraordinary.

— Lesley Arimah
2019 finalist judge


Book Excerpt


My mother still doesn’t know I’m dying. I haven’t told her and I’ve forbidden anyone else to do so either. Why should she have to be tormented by that thought. Why should she have to lose another daughter. Loss. Sometimes I want to say to those who accuse us of coming here to rip them off. To take something that isn’t ours. I want to say to them, Do you think I’ve won? Do you think I’ve gained more than I’ve lost? And you. Do you think you’ve lost more than I’ve gained? Do you think your loss is greater than my gain?

2020 Fiction Runner-up

Richard Powers - The Overstory

“No justice, no peace. No kinship, no justice. No empathy, no kinship. Reading and writing are exercises in empathy: How would the urgencies of the world look and feel, if I could get beyond myself? The best way to get beyond the self is a good story. No good stories, no peace.”

— Richard Powers              

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Bio

Richard Powers is the author of twelve novels that explore connections among disciplines as disparate as photography, artificial intelligence, musical composition, ecology, genomics, game theory, virtual reality, race, biology, and business. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, Harper’s, Esquire, Grand Street, Conjunctions, Granta, The Guardian, Common Knowledge, Wired, Tin House, Zoetrope, Paris Review, The Believer, Best American Short Stories, and The New York Times Sunday Magazine.

His books have won numerous recognitions including The Rosenthal and Vursell Awards; the James Fenimore Cooper Prize; the Corrington Award; a PEN/Hemingway Special Citation; the John Dos Passos Prize for Literature, two Pushcart Prizes, and TIME Magazine’s Book of the Year. He is a MacArthur Fellow, a fellow of both the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and a recipient of the Lannan Literary Award. He won the W.H. Smith Literary Award for best novel of 2003, and the Ambassador Book Award, 2004. His novel The Echo Maker won the 2006 National Book Award. He has been both long-listed and short-listed for the Man-Booker Prize. The Overstory was awarded the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. His work is translated into twenty-six languages.


Book Excerpt


She has searched for a name for the great ancient trunks of the uncut forest, the ones who keep the market in carbons and metabolites going. Now she has one:

Fungi mine stone to supply their trees with minerals. They hunt springtails, which they feed to their hosts. Trees, for their part, store extra sugar in their fungi’s synapses, to dole out to the sick and shaded and wounded….

Before it dies, a Douglas-fir, half a millennium old, will send its storehouse of chemicals back down into its roots and out through its fungal partners, donating its riches to the community pool in a last will and testament. We might well call these ancient benefactors giving trees….

The smell of her red cedar pencil elates her. The slow push of graphite across paper reminds her of the steady evaporation that lifts hundreds of gallons of water up hundreds of feet into a giant Douglas-fir trunk every day. The solitary act of sitting over the page and waiting for her hand to move may be as close as she’ll ever get to the enlightenment of plants.

 

The final chapter eludes her. She needs some impossible trifecta: hopeful, useful, and true. She could use Old Tjikko, that Norway Spruce who lives about midway up the length of Sweden. Above the ground, the tree is only a few hundred years old. But below, in the microbe-riddled soil, it reaches back nine thousand years or more—thousands of years older than this trick of writing she uses to try to capture it.

All morning long, she works to squeeze the nine-thousand-year saga into ten sentences: a procession of trunks falling and springing back up from the same root. There’s the hopeful she’s after. The truth is somewhat more brutal…

But hope and truth do nothing for humans, without use. In the clumpy, clumsy finger-paint of words, she searches for the use of Old Tjikko, up on that barren crest, endlessly dying and resurrecting in every change of climate. His use is to show that the world is not made for our utility. What use are we, to trees? She remembers the Buddha’s words: a tree is a wondrous thing that shelters, feeds, and protects all living things. It even offers shade to the axe-men who destroy it.

Citation

“The business of art,” wrote D. H. Lawrence, “is to reveal the relationship between man and his environment.” Few writers ever match the full scope and scale of that mandate, and fewer still bring such a spectrum of knowledge to the artistic challenge as Richard Powers, whose twelfth novel, The Overstory, now beckons him to Dayton for a long overdue celebration of his extraordinary work.

The Overstory immediately establishes its uniqueness through its interspecies ensemble: an aboreal cast of silent but potent characters — a Chestnut tree, a backyard mulberry, a Douglas fir — share the stage with a Vietnam vet, a college drop-out turned activist, an internet sorcerer, Iowa farmers and other types, each tree earning an intimate form of recognition and allegiance from a human counterpart.

Ultimately the novel can be read as an exploration and dramatization of how resistance to oppression grows. It demands that humans understand they aren’t the only show on earth, and that our mastery over nature, as the Amazon burns and coral reefs wither, has been a delusion. The raping of nature and the ravaging of the planet have customarily been saluted within a narrative of human progress and superiority. The Overstory would have us acknowledge, not through polemics but through brilliant storytelling, that the atrocity of a clear-cut mountain is not only a crime against nature but a crime against humanity itself.

Some critics have expressed surprise that a novelist might know anything about botany, but the marriage of art and science is esthetically, and ethically, at the core of Powers’ grand mission, here at the end of one millennium and the advance of another, to know the world in which we live. And in the case of The Overstory, to understand, as D. H. Lawrence himself believed, how the very presence of trees is vital to not just our existence, but whatever it is we mean when we talk about our spirits and gesture to our souls.

— Bob Shacochis
2019 finalist judge

2020 Nonfiction Winner

Eli Saslow - Rising Out of Hatred

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“What I appreciate most about my job as a reporter is it allows me a passport to spend time in places I wouldn’t otherwise go, with people I wouldn’t otherwise meet — and hopefully I get to take the reader along with me. That act feels even more essential at a time when Americans are increasingly isolated into our own bubbles by technology, by class, by ideology, and by geography. The best nonfiction journalism requires thorough investigation, but ultimately it is also an act of understanding, empathy, and peace.”

— Eli Saslow

 

Bio

In his Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage for The Washington Post, Eli Saslow reveals the human stories behind the most divisive issues of our time. From racism and poverty to addiction and mass shootings, Saslow’s work uncovers the impact of major national issues on individuals and families.

Saslow won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize in Explanatory Reporting for a series of stories about food stamps and food insecurity in the United States. Collected into the book American Hunger, his stories were praised as “unsettling and nuanced…forcing readers to grapple with issues of poverty and dependency.” Saslow was also named one of three finalists for the Pulitzer Prize in Feature Writing in 2013, 2016 and 2017. His stories in The Washington Post have been recognized with a George Polk Award, a PEN Literary Award, a James Beard Award, and other honors.

His latest book, Rising Out of Hatred, was published by Doubleday in the fall of 2018. It tells the transformational story of Derek Black, who was raised to take over the white nationalist movement before a drastic change of course caused him to abandon everything he was taught to believe. Saslow’s first book, Ten Letters: The Stories Americans Tell Their President, examined President Obama’s daily habit of reading ten random letters from Americans. Booklist called Ten Letters “a testament to the power of the written word.”

Saslow is a longtime staff writer for The Washington Post, where he was initially a sportswriter. He has reported for 42 states and six countries. He covered the 2008 presidential campaign as well as President Obama’s life in the White House. Four of his stories have been anthologized in Best American Sportswriting, and he is an occasional contributor to ESPN The Magazine.

Saslow gives speeches about his books, about the role of journalism in highlighting social and public health issues, the craft of longform journalism, and the human impacts of public policy. He was the T. Anthony Pollner Distinguished Professor of Journalism at the University of Montana, and he has spoken about his work at Princeton, Syracuse University, UNC Wilmington, UVA, Northwestern, USC and elsewhere.

A 2004 graduate of Syracuse University, he now lives in Portland, Oregon, with his wife and three children.

Citation

In an outstanding work of investigative journalism and literary reportage, Eli Saslow’s Rising Out of Hatred: The Awakening of a Former White Nationalistis a meticulous journey of how someone can embrace, promulgate, then liberate themselves from a radical ideology based on degradation and violence.

We are familiar with how fear and bigotry can radicalize and curdle into hatred. In Saslow’s book, we learn exactly how this process occurs, through a community of enablers that over a period of years offer unquestioning support and enthusiasm for hateful beliefs, while fostering a sense of uniqueness and belonging. What’s less familiar is how someone can “de-radicalize,” or leave such an extremist organization. What are the challenges involved in that process? What happens when someone initiates the first step into a life that isn’t solely defined by prejudice and injustice? Who does that person become? Saslow’s book demonstrates that someone breaking from an ideology isn’t a massive break at all but rather a series of small, consequential steps and gestures, each one nurtured by patience and compassion. In the same way it requires scores of committed people to keep someone tethered to hate, it likewise takes a community of individuals interested in challenging both themselves and others, to help transform and ultimately redeem someone that has known one way of thinking.

It takes an extraordinary effort to help someone dismantle and discard a toxic sense of identity. In an era that has both mainstreamed and rewarded bigotry, fear, and racial hatred, Saslow’s book offers a bold, detailed, and revelatory path for peace making, tolerance, and potential reconciliation, one based on empathy, compassion, and understanding. It is also a sobering challenge to each of its readers, individually and collectively, of the hard work we all must be prepared to undertake to make such a pathway possible. This book is an inspiration and a triumph.

– Brando Skyhorse
2019 finalist judges


Book Excerpt


Few people on his college campus knew that Derek Black had once been the rightful heir to America’s white nationalist movement—the son of Don Black, who founded the internet’s largest hate site, and the godson of David Duke, a former KKK Grand Wizard. Few white nationalists knew exactly where Derek was living now, what he believed, or why he had changed his mind. On the dark corners of the internet, neo-Nazis and skinheads were calling him a traitor and plotting revenge. Derek had separated his life into two parts, a before and an after. . . .

His past was in fact present. Derek said he felt implicated by current events, sometimes even culpable. Maybe he had stopped planting the seeds of hate and division, but they were still growing all around him. “It’s a critical time. My relationship to the cultural moment is now more personal. I imagine I have some things to say bout all of it. Let’s find a time to meet.”

Derek took the greatest risk. Sometimes when we spent time together, he wondered how it would feel to see his old white nationalist talking points printed out again on the page. But his commitment to this project never wavered. If parts of his story traced the country’s path to this contentious racial moment, then maybe the details of his transformation can also point a way ahead.

2019 Nonfiction Runner-up

Wil Haygood - Tigerland: 1968-1969: A City Divided, a Nation Torn Apart, and a Magical Season of Healing

“The mission that I gave myself in writing Tigerland was to excavate a forgotten story set against the America of 1968-69. Having earlier traveled the world as a correspondent to war zones, I came across a story in Columbus, Ohio, of black high school athletes set loose in that fiery year. Their peace-hungering hero, Martin Luther King Jr., had fallen to a white supremacist. The Tigers of East High School unleashed their talents not in the fires of the time, but on the basketball courts and baseball diamonds, winning two state championships in those sports that year. It was a history-making moment for them, and for the black and white coalition that supported their rise to glory. The black athlete – then as now – has never been far from the social and political swirl of America. Literature is the whistle that won’t stop blowing at game’s end; the stories go on and on.

I’m both honored and touched by the recognition given this saga by the Dayton Literary Peace Prize Committee.”

— Wil Haygood         

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Bio

Wil Haygood has spent many years crisscrossing the worlds of book writing and journalism. His biographies of Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., Sammy Davis Jr., Sugar Ray Robinson, and Thurgood Marshall were all critically acclaimed and garnered literary awards. His chronicle of the life of White House butler Eugene Allen became the basis for the award-winning film, The Butler, directed by Lee Daniels and starring, among others, Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, Jane Fonda and Vanessa Redgrave. A Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow, Haygood, a professor at Miami University, Ohio, has also been a Pulitzer Prize finalist and is the recipient of several honorary degrees. His latest book, Tigerland, was awarded the Ohioana Book Award, and was a finalist for the Benjamin Hooks National Book Award, and the Richard Wright-Zora Neale Hurston Award, while also being long-listed for the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence.


Book Excerpt


The national media came to East on the first day of school in 1979, the first day that busing and integrations were official policy. This was the school that symbolized the struggle, this was the school of the champions. The media lights shone all day. A school that had been all black in 1978, the year before, now was 55 percent white. …

In time, Columbus proved to the nation that its citizenry could adapt to legally enforced integration. In time, the city received plaudits from head business leaders and even the Department of Justice in Washington.

In time, as the years rolled outward, local citizens would look back, swiveling against the memories of 1968-1969, when a group of high school basketball and baseball players had created their own legend. They had helped to bring hope to a city, giving it a reason to cheer and also proving that there was more than one route to Dr. King’s mountaintop.

Citation

In Tigerland: 1968-1969: A City Divided, A Nation Torn Apart, and a Magical Season of Healing, Wil Haygood brings to life with immediacy and vitality the players, parents, coaches, and school leaders who worked together to rally a community during difficult and divisive times. He shows how sports can transcend mere athleticism and become a truly ennobling pursuit that brings out the best in the competitors on the court and the adults who shepherd them on their way.

Haygood creates a compelling portrait of a community that has been traditionally underrepresented in the media, showing us the most positive attributes of African American society in the form of young people who are viewed by their peers as heroes, rather than problematizing the same community by focusing only on those individuals who have gone astray. As such, Haygood’s book is far more original than many other efforts to describe black America, eschewing standardized tropes and enabling the reader to see beyond stereotypes. Through his reportage, Haygood makes visible the too often overlooked everyday heroes inside our schools who forge peace at the street level every single day. He includes character studies of star players, their white coach, and the black principal who worked with them all to create a school environment where young men and women of color could thrive.

The book becomes especially moving as the main subjects redouble their positive pursuits after they absorb the shocking news of the murders of black leaders by racist opponents on the national stage, creating a deep sense of anger and betrayal in African American neighborhoods across the country. By channeling their sadness and fury into slam dunk performances on the basketball court, the team elevates themselves and all who are cheering for them to succeed, despite everything that appears to stand in their way.

– Helen Thorpe
2019 finalist judges

2020 Finalists

Fiction

10 Minutes, 38 Seconds by Elif Shafak (Bloomsbury Publishing)

Shortlisted for the 2019 Booker Prize
Named a Best Book of the Year by Bookpage, NPR, Washington Post, and The Economist

A moving novel on the power of friendship in our darkest times, from internationally renowned writer and speaker Elif Shafak.


In the pulsating moments after she has been 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 minutes 38 seconds. While the Turkish sun rises and her friends sleep soundly nearby, she remembers her life—and the lives of others, outcasts like her.

Tequila Leila’s memories bring us back to her childhood in the provinces, a highly oppressive milieu with religion and traditions, shaped by a polygamous family with two mothers and an increasingly authoritarian father. Escaping to Istanbul, Leila makes her way into the sordid industry of sex trafficking, finding a home in the city’s historic Street of Brothels. This is a dark, violent world, but Leila is tough and open to beauty, light, and the essential bonds of friendship.

In Tequila Leila’s death, the secrets and wonders of modern Istanbul come to life, painted vividly by the captivating tales of how Leila came to know and be loved by her friends. As her epic journey to the afterlife comes to an end, it is her chosen family who brings her story to a buoyant and breathtaking conclusion.

Lost Children by Valeria Luiselli (Alfred A. Knopf)

The Booker Prize-nominated English-language debut from the two-time NBCC finalist: an emotionally resonant, fiercely imaginative, and utterly timely novel about a family’s road trip across America.

     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, through Virginia to Tennessee, across Oklahoma and Texas, 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 (Bonnier AB)

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. As 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 and see.”

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. In Berlin, at the time when the world changed, 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, their paths fated to cross, their fortunes linked. 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 (Random House Publishing Group)

“You can be beautiful, even more beautiful than before.” This is the seductive promise of Dr. Nzinga’s clinic, where anyone can get their lips thinned, their skin bleached, and their nose narrowed. A complete demelanization will liberate you from the confines of being born in a black body—if you can afford it.

In this near-future Southern city plagued by fenced-in ghettos and police violence, more and more residents are turning to this experimental medical procedure. Like any father, our narrator just wants the best for his son, Nigel, a biracial boy whose black birthmark is getting bigger by The day. The darker Nigel becomes, the more frightened his father feels. But how far will he go to protect his son? And will he destroy his family in the process?

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

Educated by Tara Westover (Random House)

With the acute insight that distinguishes all great writers, Westover has crafted a universal coming-of-age story that gets to the heart of what an education offers: the perspective to see one’s life through new eyes, and the will to change it.

Frederick Douglass by David Blight (Simon & Schuster)

In his “cinematic and deeply engaging” (The New York Times Book Review) biography, Blight has drawn on new information held in a private collection that few other historians have consulted, as well as recently discovered issues of Douglass’s newspapers. Blight’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book tells the fascinating story of Douglass’s two marriages and his complex extended family.

I Should Have Honor by Khalida Brohi (Random House)

A fearless memoir about tribal life in Pakistan—and the act of violence that inspired one ambitious young woman to pursue a life of activism and female empowerment. And ultimately, she learned that the only way to eradicate the parts of a culture she despised was to fully embrace the parts of it that she loved.

Rising Out of Hatred by Eli Saslow (Anchor)

From a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, the powerful story of how a prominent white supremacist changed his heart and mind With great empathy and narrative verve, Eli Saslow asks what Derek’s story can tell us about America’s increasingly divided nature. This is a book to help us understand the American moment and to help us better understand one another.

The Sun Does Shine by Anthony Ray Hinton (Griffin)

With a foreword by Bryan Stevenson, The Sun Does Shine is an extraordinary testament to the power of hope sustained through the darkest times. Destined to be a classic memoir of wrongful imprisonment and freedom won, The Sun Does Shine tells Hinton’s dramatic 30-year journey and shows how you can take away a man’s freedom, but you can’t take away his imagination, humor, or joy.

Tigerland by Will Haygood (Knopf)

From the author of the best-selling The Butler — an emotional, inspiring story of two teams from a poor, black, segregated high school in Ohio, who, in the midst of the racial turbulence of 1968/1969, win the Ohio state baseball and basketball championships in the same year.

2020 Finalist Judges

Fiction

   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.

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

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. 

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. Tribalbecame 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.

2020 Awards Ceremony

The 2016 Awards Ceremony was held at 5:00 pm on Sunday, November 5th, 2019, at the Benjamin and Marian Schuster Performing Arts Center at One West Second Street in Dayton, Ohio. Gilbert King was the Master of Ceremonies.

2019 Award Winners and Runners-up

Richard C. Holbrooke Award N. Scott Momaday

Fiction Award Golnaz Hashemzadeh Bonde for What We Owe

Nonfiction Award Eli Saslow for Rising Out of Hatred

Fiction Runner-up Richard Powers for The Overstory

Nonfiction Runner-up Wil Haygood for Tigerland

Additional Videos

Entire Awards Ceremony, November 5, 2019

2019 Author’s Reception, November 5, 2019

Conversations with the Authors, November 5, 2019

Photos by Andy Snow (andysnow.com) ©2019.

2020 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.