Dayton Literary Peace Prize

2023 Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke
Distinguished Achievement Award

Sandra Cisneros

I witnessed a war’s effects personally with the forty-year friendship of my hermana-amiga from Sarajevo. And what I learned was this: the casualties of a war are not simply those killed in warfare. Civilians and unborn generations ever after suffer with the shrapnel of that conflict embedded in their psyche like hidden landmines. I just returned from Sarajevo, and I know this is true.

The repercussions of the Bosnian War have shaped me as both a writer and a human being. I have aspired in my life to strive for unity. I’m enormously gratified to be honored with a prize focusing on peace. The Dayton Literary Peace Prize is a benediction and a confirmation of my lifework. My most humble thanks.

— Sandra Cisneros 


Sandra Cisneros is a poet, short story writer, novelist, and essayist whose work explores the lives of the working-class.  Her numerous awards include NEA fellowships in both poetry and fiction, the Texas Medal of the Arts, a MacArthur Fellowship, the PEN/Nabokov Award for International Literature, the National Medal of Arts, and the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize.  Her novel The House on Mango Street has sold over seven million copies, has been translated into over twenty-five languages, and is required reading in elementary, high school, and universities across the nation. A new book, Martita, I Remember You/Martita, te recuerdo, a story in English and in Spanish, was published in 2021. In the fall of 2022, a new collection of poetry, Woman Without Shame, Cisneros’s first in 28 years, has just been published by Knopf and by Vintage Español in a Spanish language translation, Mujer sin vergüenza, by Liliana Valenzuela.  Cisneros is a dual citizen of the United States and Mexico.  As a single woman, she chose to have books instead of children.  She earns her living by her pen.

Book Excerpt 


You can never have too much sky. You can fall asleep and wake up drunk on sky, and sky can keep you safe when you are sad. Here there is too much sadness and not enough sky. Butterflies too are few and so are flowers and most things that are beautiful. Still, we take what we can get and make the best of it.

Darius, who doesn’t like school, who is sometimes stupid and mostly a fool, said something wise today, though most days he says nothing. Darius today pointed up because the world was full of clouds, the kind like pillows.

You all see that cloud, that fat one there? Darius said, See that? Where? That one next to the one that look like popcorn. That one there. See that. That’s God, Darius said. God? somebody little asked. God, he said, and made it simple.


Drawing from experience, Sandra Cisneros infuses stories with her memories and the people she has known.  Her circumstances provide a colorful landscape. The sole daughter among seven children, her childhood straddled two worlds: the cultural wealth of Mexico and opportunity-deprived Chicago. She was the first Chicana writer released by a mainstream publisher, and she continues to invest in next-generation author-activist writing groups she’s founded. Her works emerge from her otherness; she writes about the particular vulnerabilities of those, like her, doubly marginalized – often women and immigrants. Yet even as she centers on the Chicana experience, her stories resonate widely—making her quest for belonging universally relatable. 

It requires unusual skill to compose, within one book, relatable vignettes that are accessible to young, middle-aged, and older readers. Cisneros’s most enduring work, The House on Mango Street (translated into over twenty languages), remains a fire at which anyone can warm themselves. She reaches children, and her framing of difficult themes respects both their vulnerability and their capacity for maturity. She invites readers to embody Esperanza (her main character, whose name aptly means “hope”), to exist within her story, to witness the unburying of shared histories, to invent the ending they believe she lives. In the years since writing The House on Mango Street, Cisneros has fulfilled the calling an elder character spoke to the young Esperanza: “When you leave you must remember to come back for the others. A circle, understand? You will always be Esperanza. You will always be Mango Street. You can’t erase what you know. You can’t forget who you are.”

Cisneros often writes the reader directly into the conversation, assigns them a role, and engages them in side chats, sometimes provoking a chuckle. She embodies a counter-cultural positivity without lapsing into over-sentimentality. She shows readers how she has learned to hold and live with change, to appreciate its scars but not be defined by them. Her writings frame peace by featuring perseverance, compassion, and graciousness—her words tools of nonviolence, disarming those who challenge her. She might even write a thoughtful letter, welcoming dialogue, should someone move to censor her works. She gifts readers with the responsibility of bearing witness, of holding and considering their own renewal of inner peace. Peace requires honesty after all–about one’s shortcomings, about the talents one can offer the world, and about the duty that comes with those talents. 

The peace-seeking legacy of Sandra Cisneros has a long record, and the places she has lived and loved are often featured in her settings. One such place was Sarajevo, where she resided just before genocide and war shocked the world. She wrote a letter to The New York Times, humanizing victims and pleading for interventions that could halt the bloodshed. Her voice was powerful among the many who called for an end to that war, which was finally achieved through the Dayton Peace Accords– the event that inspired the creation of this award that now honors her. 

Cisneros embodies what is possible in a time of discord, chaos, and polarization, striving for alternatives to violence that are characterized by compassion and positive regard. She builds new models of moral imagination, calling out wrongs without ambiguity while presuming that others are doing the best they can. She demonstrates the value of mutual care in relationships, especially to heal and experience resilience after harm, injustice, or trauma. Discussing her poetry, she elaborates on her commitment to peace: “Thich Nhat Hanh taught me (when the Bosnian war was happening and I didn’t know what to do) that it was important to act for peace; we had to be peace. It wasn’t enough to hold up a sign, get people to sign petitions. You can do that, but you have to be peace, and that means making peace with the cousin you can’t stand.” 

Over decades, Cisneros’s work mirrored the shifting contours of her life while eliciting recognition and respect. She has held prestigious fellowships and her works have earned numerous literary awards. In her works, Sandra Cisneros reveals the devastating consequences of misogyny, war, poverty, and xenophobia, but she offers the counterweight of intimacy, healing, and the beauty of life and art to overcome despair. Her social and political consciousness invites readers to develop a critical eye and voice for exposing injustices—she shows how the world is not as it should be. She reminds us that our interdependence is integral to our mutual well-being. She embraces, uplifts, amplifies, and cheers for the successes of others, especially those who have been underrepresented and dehumanized. She reminds us that we already possess all we need for peace. 

—Christa Preston Agiro, Professor of English, Wright State University

2023 Fiction Winner

Horse by Geraldine Brooks

Fiction reveals the truth of human experience through an exercise of extreme empathy. Yet we are living in a moment when truth is vilified, empathy disparaged. So the novelist’s work becomes more urgent now: to dismantle the pernicious myth of “The Other” and illuminate our shared humanity. 

— Geraldine Brooks


Geraldine Brooks is an author and journalist. Born and raised in Australia, she is a graduate of Sydney University, and she worked for The Sydney Morning Herald, The National Times, and for a decade as a foreign correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, covering global conflicts, including the war in Bosnia/Herzegovina.

She was the Greg Shackleton scholar at Columbia University’s journalism program and a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University, where she has also been a visiting lecturer. She is the author of six novels, including the 2006 Pulitzer Prize winner, March, and the recent bestseller, Horse. Her non-fiction works include Nine Parts of Desire and her 2011 Boyer lectures, The Idea of Home. In 2010 she won the Dayton Literary Peace Prize Lifetime Achievement Award and in 2016, was named an officer in the Order of Australia.


Book Excerpt

We are a weary, footsore, ragged army taking our needed rest after fifty-six straight days of fighting. I will not write to you of battles: no doubt you read of them in the New York press. They say we are winning this war. They say it, and yet that word does not carry the same meaning to me as it once did. This does not feel like winning, even when the shooting stops and the cannons fall silent and I stand up with my head ringing in the midst of shattered trees and shattered bodies and can count more of us alive and more of them dead.


 “There’s something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man,” said Winston Churchill, who knew whereof he spoke. Churchill bred thoroughbreds and racehorses. Writer Geraldine Brooks also reflects the premise. The outside of a horse—in this case, the famous American racehorse, Lexington, who really did exist—is at the center of her beautiful, original novel, Horse.

Brooks introduces the story through separate time periods. We meet Jess, the modern-day Smithsonian scientist charged with articulating the horse’s skeleton. Hers is a world of bones and stories from the past solidified through science. 

We also meet Jarrett, the enslaved groom who trains Lexington, in the Antebellum South. His life as the property of not one but two horse breeders, is marked by injustice and pain and also by personal integrity. It is Jarret who nurtures Lexington from a colt to the great racehorse known around the world.

Brooks also includes the art scene of New York in the 1950’s, thanks to art dealer, Martha Jackson, who rubs shoulders with Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner and discovers a special painting of Lexington that will later mean so much to Jess.

But the novel is concerned with themes beyond the equestrian. The environmental crisis, excessive police force, and racial and sexual inequality are included here, as is the story of American slavery and its legacy.

Historical fiction is a doorway to real events, and Brooks has utilized the genre before in her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, March, where she recreated the Civil War, via the fictional March family patriarch from Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. That novel demonstrated Brooks’ amazing research skills, as well as her literary vision. Likewise, in Horse, we see an America much like the splendid animal at the center of the narrative. An America able to stand on its legs almost from birth, sleek and full of promise, but also vulnerable to corruption, neglect, disease, and greed. We see the intersections of science, art, and commerce, of horse country and urban life. And the tragedy of human frailty against the backdrop of good intentions.

–Lisa Page
2023 Fiction Judge

2023 Fiction Runner-up

The Light Pirate by Lily Brooks-Dalton

My understanding of peace is that it never arrives alone. Without the company of chaos or conflict, peace is only an abstraction, thin and vaporous. Peace exists most fully in the center of the storm, wrapped in furious winds, held together by discord, and made tangible in terrible, beautiful contrast. I don’t know that there is another way to experience peace, or to write about it. 

But this is the task. Of living, of writing. Of making a home in an environment that is changing so rapidly our speculative climate fiction is becoming realism. We undertake righteous action, we lean into the battles that need fighting, we endure that which seems unendurable, and inside this honest struggle of existence, at its very center, we learn to find peace—to be at peace—and then return the fray.

—Lily Brooks-Dalton


Lily Brooks-Dalton

 was born and raised in southern Vermont. Her first book, Motorcycles I’ve Loved: A Memoir, published in 2015 by Riverhead, was a finalist for the Oregon Book Award. Her first novel, Good Morning, Midnight, was published the next year by Random House, and it has been translated into 17 languages, with a film adaptation as The Midnight Sky, in December 2020, starring and directed by George Clooney.

Brooks-Dalton earned a BA at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and a MFA at Portland State University.

Lily’s The Light Pirate, a #1 Indie Next pick for December 2022, a Good Morning America Book Club selection, one of NPR’s “Books We Love,” and a New York Times Editors’ Pick. She is a former writer-in-residence at The Kerouac House and The Studios of Key West, and currently lives in Los Angeles.


In so many great novels about the American family, the terrain and weather shape the lives of everyone the reader encounters. John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath comes to mind. For Lily Brooks-Dalton’s Light Pirate, which is set in Florida in the near future, an apt literary reference is Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. Both novels feature the aftermath of fatal hurricanes in the state. With a focus on a single community, Brooks-Dalton documents Florida’s shift from annual environmental devastation to irreversible societal decline. In this transformed world, we meet Wanda and the family she was born into and the one she creates over decades in a sun-blistered place where land, swamp, and ocean are nearly indistinguishable.

“Must the Novelist Crusade?” Eudora Welty asked in one of her most important essays. Her answer was that art must come first, not the artist’s politics. I agree with her. George Orwell’s 1984 is a tremendous work of literature, for example, which is why it is so effective in exposing and condemning totalitarianism. The more overt an author is making an ideological point, the less impactful their literary endeavor tends to be in the long term. Brooks-Dalton does not tell us whom to denounce chapter by chapter; rather, she shows us how to live, including how to live with loss and regret.

We follow Wanda from childhood to her elderly years against a backdrop of unrelenting storms, exhausting heat, and imperiled housing. Food is scarce. Basic resources, such as electricity, are nonexistent. Wanda faces constant danger from predators, both animal and human. In time, she learns from Phyllis, a retired professor, how to exist in a state of cautious harmony. Despite the harsh environment, The Light Pirate is fundamentally a peaceful book because of the centering of the natural world in the tale. There is a mere shade of difference between the words “story” and “tale,” but the latter seems to describe this lyrical journey best. It is a tale of how to move beyond loss, personal and communal, and how to offer our light for the common good, to push away the darkness of the wild mysterious world beyond our comprehension.

—John Parrish Peede
2023 Fiction Judge


Book Excerpt

Years passed–or was it just a moment? 

Hard to say. Phyllis’s cognitive mind slipped farther and farther away and a different kind of awareness bloomed. The swamp breathed and she breathed with it. She saw everything: the creatures, the flowers, the tender shoots of green and the towering trees, the depths of the water. All that was dead and dying. All that was bursting with life. Her notebooks, tucked away in their plastic container, were gradually forgotten. The urge to record, to quantify, left her. Instead, she returned to the inclination that had guided her through all the years when her mind was sharp. The root of her curiosity: a simple and enduring desire to notice. There were moments during this last stretch when she occupied herself so completely that she forgot there had been any other time than now, any other way to exist but this. And there were also moments when she fought against the ebbing of logic and analysis, feeling adrift and upset, as if something precious had been taken from her that she would never have again. All of this was true. All of it was right.

2023 Nonfiction Winner

His Name Is George Floyd: One Man's Life and the Struggle for Racial Justice
by Robert Samuels & Toluse Olorunnipa

Over the course of writing “His Name is George Floyd,” there was a phrase I heard Philonise Floyd say again and again. He’d tell it to strangers when they approached him and apologized for the murder of his big brother. He’d utter it to himself, too, in his darkest moments, when the burdens felt unbearably heavy. It was an affirmation to keep going: “Justice for George means freedom for all.” 

Tolu and I watched the Floyds struggle with what “justice” means over the months we worked with them. Nothing—neither a guilty verdict nor a payout from the city nor the largest protest movement this country had ever seen—seemed to be able to deliver it, especially when there was still so much trouble in the world. The family’s definition of “freedom,” though, hardly wavered. Freedom was the ability to live in a country that consistently lived up to its ideals, one in which people did not have to worry that a sudden, heinous act could disrupt one’s personal ecosystem and destroy their sense of peace.

The family had learned reviving their old sense of peace could not happen in a vacuum. It couldn’t because George Floyd’s death exposed so many systems of inequity, prejudice and bias that imprison each one of us. There is no true freedom for anyone unless freedom is realized for all. And there could not be true justice for George Floyd unless there was justice for all. In reporting on their journey, I learned that these American ideals—freedom, justice—were intertwined with our communal sense of responsibility, our shared desire to experience oneness, shalom, peace.

—Robert Samuels


Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” I think of this scriptural truth when I think about the George Floyd my coauthor and I encountered as we wrote about his life.

Before an act of war-like brutality took that life, Floyd was known as a peacemaker. Whether it was stopping his fifth-grade classmates from roughing up a neighborhood newcomer, using humor to defuse the testosterone-filled tensions of high school football team or engaging in “hood diplomacy” by encouraging younger men in his community to “put them guns down, man,” Floyd was a man constantly in search of peace. 

We opened His Name is George Floyd with the words “I love you” rather than “I can’t breathe” because it is the three-word verbal peace offering and not the expression connoting the absence of the most basic kind of peace that Floyd’s friends and family recalled him saying most often. It was how he disarmed and charmed, by handing out figurative flowers offered to just about anyone he met.

It is our hope that by using the written word to shine a light on Floyd’s humanity and on the injustices he faced we might help push a battle-worn society closer to a prerequisite for peace: Understanding. Just as Floyd used his words to inject love into a world that too often and for too many feels loveless, we sought to use our words both to convict and to heal.

George Perry Floyd, Jr., was a peacemaker, and a child of God. And as his death awakened millions to the fact that there can be no righteous peace without justice, it is our hope that by reading about his life, many more will come to know this same undeniable truth. It’s an absolute honor to be recognized by the Dayton Literary Peace Prize. Thank you.”     

—Toluse Olorunnipa



Book Excerpt

For as long as anyone can remember, 
George Perry Floyd Jr. had wanted the world to know his name. He was young, poor, and Black in America—a recipe for irrelevance in a society that tended to push boys like him onto its margins. But he assured everyone around him that, someday, he would make a lasting impact. As a child, he had a simple way of letting people know when he wanted to be taken seriously: he would touch them on the forearm and look into their eyes to ensure he had their full attention. So his sister Zsa Zsa stopped what she was doing one day when thirteen-year-old Floyd rested his hand right above her wrist. “Sis,” he said. “I don’t want to rule the world; I don’t want to run the world. I just want to touch the world.”


A book about extreme violence, inhuman behavior, and brutality, that begins with a heartfelt: “I love you”—how impossible is that? When he was thirteen years old, George Perry Floyd, Jr., put his hand on his sister, Zsa Zsa’s wrist, and said, “‘Sis, I don’t want to rule the world; I don’t want to run the world. I just want to touch
the world.’”

Washington Post reporters Robert Samuels and Toluse Olorunnipa set out to understand how George Floyd’s life had unfurled and what battles he had to fight against the justice system and the police. And what battles he fought on behalf of others.

“I can’t breathe.” When a police officer shoved his knee onto George Floyd’s neck, for allegedly trying to pass a counterfeit $20, Floyd pleaded for his life. For nine minutes and 29 seconds, the officer pushed down hard on a shackled man whose face was mashed onto the street. For the last two minutes Floyd was motionless, without a pulse.

George Floyd, born in Fayetteville, North Carolina, was often in charge of his four siblings. The family, who couldn’t afford laundry detergent, washed their clothes in the sink with dish soap. Floyd, who grew to be a gentle giant, played high school basketball, then college football when his family moved to Houston. He struggled with fentanyl and amphetamines and was arrested eight times for drug possession, theft, and trespass—while constantly trying to get clean. Even leading his religious group once he moved to Minneapolis. But Samuels and Olorunnnipa document that he was always on the police radar. 

The shocking revelations are laid out in a clear-eyed, even-toned manner. Readers learn that in a privately run federal prison where Floyd was sent when he was convinced to accept a plea deal for armed robbery—not his M.O.—he had to pick cotton from sunup to sundown without pay, a “master” riding a horse through the fields, inmates serving as “house boys” to the owner of the prison. 

Meticulous reporters, Samuels and Olorunnipa, conducted more than 400 interviews for this book, making sure to confer confidentiality whenever asked. Their fact finding is moving, telling, startling. When the authors compared notes of family members with those of historical records, the family members’ remembrances proved to be absolutely on target. These authors confirm that people are telling the most difficult truths. Truths to power. Truths despite cruelty. Truth.

They document the extraordinary reverberations. After Floyd’s death thousands gathered for what is purported to be the largest civil rights march since the Civil Rights Era. George Floyd murals appeared in cities around the country. Colleges and universities set up scholarships in his honor.

Yes, in this brilliant book, His Name is George Floyd, Samuels and Olorunnipa teach us so much about what goes on between races. Between police, the justice system, and humans who get entangled in their webs. Yes, George Floyd, who gave his life, touched the world.

– Lou Ann Walker,
2023 Nonfiction Judge

2023 Nonfiction Runner-up

American Midnight: The Great War, a Violent Peace, and Democracy's Forgotten Crisis
by Adam Hochschild

Both of the books that have brought me to Dayton concern the First World War. The historian Simon Schama called that conflict “the original sin of the Twentieth Century.” Not only did it kill more than nine million soldiers and an even greater number of civilians, but it left a legacy of bitterness and resentment that guaranteed the coming of a still more deadly world war. I would love to roll back history to 1914 and find an alternative, more peaceful way forward. Not being able to do that, writers of both fiction and nonfiction need to look hard at that war—and at all wars—to examine carefully the wounds that supposedly victorious countries inflict on themselves, as well as on their enemies   

—Adam  Hochschild



Adam Hochschild writes frequently about issues of human rights and social justice. The latest of his eleven books is American Midnight: The Great War, a Violent Peace, and Democracy’s Forgotten Crisis. King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, as was To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918. His Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire’s Slaves was a finalist for the National Book Award and won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the PEN USA Literary Award. He is a three-time winner of the Gold Medal for Nonfiction of the California Book Awards. He has also written for The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Nation, and many other magazines, and teaches at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism.


The period is 1917 through 1921. American history books note that the United States remained neutral during the war in Europe—until foreign submarines began attacking US ships. Then millions of doughboys headed off to fight in dismal European trenches. But as historian Adam Hochschild adroitly points out, few of those history books discuss what was actually taking place in politics and in society on the western side of the Atlantic. Those history texts jump from Great War victory parades to the Roaring 20s and the flapper era, not bothering to note the horrific violations of human rights, free speech, and brutality that was encouraged throughout the United States. Through his masterful research, insightful analysis, and elegant writing, Adam Hochschild takes readers on a number of excruciatingly important journeys. Without equivocation, Hochschild writes that President Woodrow Wilson, champion of the League of Nations that was intended to promote negotiation rather than warfare, presided over the “greatest assault on American civil liberties in the last century and a half.” As millions died on the battlefields in Europe during “The Great War,” as the Spanish Flu pandemic raged, in the United States “a story of mass imprisonments, torture, vigilante violence, censorship, killings of Black Americans, and far more. . .” was roiling out of control on the farms and streets. Hochschild writes of machine-gun nests perched above American cities, and militias marching up and down roads. The Ku Klux Klan was extraordinarily active—indeed, relatives of current politicians are directly descended from people who perpetrated violence on others in the 1920s. Regarding the Tulsa, Oklahoma, massacre in 1921, Hochschild records that the well-to-do Black area of Tulsa was set on fire by small planes dropping bombs to drive out the population, which included 1,400 businesses. There had been no provocation. The 35-acre area was left “charred.” Hundreds of Black people were arrested. The entire population was dispersed to other areas.

Hochschild writes powerfully about the fact that understanding this “overlooked period” during which racism and Red-baiting were prevalent is crucial to us today. He quotes Milan Kundera: “‘The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.’” In American Midnight, Adam Hochschild shows us what demagoguery, cruelty, and inhuman behavior wrought in the past, and what that behavior is inflicting upon us now. He is letting us know what was indeed forgotten. And in Hochschild’s clear-eyed, even-handed way, how crucial it is for us to understand “the raw underside of our nation’s life” that was the Great War era. As well as the parallels—and perils—a century later in the 2020s.

–Lou Ann Walker,

2023 Nonfiction Judge

Book Excerpt


American’s version of democracy is far from perfect,
and every generation or two we learn anew just how fragile it can be. Almost all the tensions that roiled the country during and after the First World War still linger today. To keep these dark forces from overwhelming American society once again will require a lot from us. Knowledge of our history, so we can better see the danger signals and the first drumbeats of demagoguery. Brave men and women both inside and outside the government, like those who spoke the truth and stuck to their principles more than a hundred years ago. A more equitable distribution of wealth, so that there will not be tens of millions of people economically losing ground and looking for scapegoats to blame. A mass media far less craven toward those in power than it was in 1917-21. And above all, a vigilant respect for civil rights and constitutional safeguards, to save ourselves from ever slipping back into the darkness again.

2023 Finalists


Anthem by Noah Hawley (Grand Central Publishing)

Something grave is happening to teenagers across America. Recovering from his sister’s tragic passing, Simon breaks out of a treatment facility to join a man called “The Prophet” on a quest as urgent as it is enigmatic. Their journey becomes a rescue mission when they set off to save a woman being held captive by a man who goes by “The Wizard” in this freewheeling adventure that finds unquenchable light in the dark corners of society.

Didn’t Nobody Give a Shit What Happened to Carlotta by James Hannaham (Little, Brown and Company)

A trans woman, Carlotta Mercedes, reenters life on the outside after more than twenty years in a men’s prison. Set over the course of a whirlwind Fourth of July weekend, Didn’t Nobody Give a Shit What Happened to Carlotta follows her struggles to reconcile with the son she left behind, to reunite with a family reluctant to accept her true identity, and to avoid anything that might send her back to lockup.

Horse by Geraldine Brooks (Viking)

A discarded painting in a junk pile, a skeleton in an attic, and the greatest racehorse in American history: from these strands, a Pulitzer Prize winner braids a sweeping story of spirit, obsession, and injustice across American history. Based on the remarkable true story of the record-breaking thoroughbred Lexington, Horse is a novel of art and science, love and obsession, and our unfinished reckoning with racism.

Mecca by Susan Straight (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

From the National Book Award finalist Susan Straight, Mecca is a stunning epic tracing the intertwined lives of native Californians fighting for life and land. The author crafts an unforgettable American epic, examining race, history, family, and destiny. With sensitivity, furor, and a cinematic scope that captures California in all its injustice, history, and glory, she tells a story of the American West through the eyes of the people who built it—and continue to sustain it.

The Immortal King Rao by Vauhini Vara (W. W. Norton & Company)

In an Indian village in the 1950s, a precocious child is born into a family of Dalit coconut farmers. King Rao will grow up to be the world’s most accomplished tech CEO and lead a global corporate government. King’s daughter, Athena, must reckon with his legacy—literally, for he has given her access to his memories. The Immortal King Rao obliterates the boundaries between literary and speculative fiction, the historical and the dystopian, to confront our age of technological capitalism.

The Light Pirate by Lily Brooks-Dalton (Grand Central Publishing)

As devastating weather patterns wreak gradual havoc on Florida’s infrastructure, a powerful hurricane approaches a small town on the southeastern coast. Wanda, named for the terrible storm she was born into, grows up in a landscape abandoned by civilization. Moving from childhood to adulthood, Wanda loses family, gains community, and ultimately, seeks adventure, love, and purpose in a place remade by nature.


American Midnight: The Great War, a Violent Peace, and Democracy’s Forgotten Crisis by Adam Hochschild (Mariner Books)

A groundbreaking work of narrative history, American Midnight recalls the horrifying yet inspiring four years following the U.S. entry into the First World War, a brief but appalling era blighted by torture, censorship, and killings. While some brave Americans strove to keep their fractured country democratic, ruthless others stimulated toxic currents of racism, nativism, red-baiting, and contempt for the rule of law—poisons that feel ominously familiar today.

Asian American Histories of the United States by Catherine Ceniza Choy (Beacon Press)

An inclusive and landmark history emphasizing how essential Asian American experiences are to any understanding of U.S. history. Award-winning historian Catherine Ceniza Choy presents an urgent social history of the fastest-growing group of Americans. This book is a nearly 200-year history of Asian migration, labor, and community formation in the U.S., featuring the lived experiences and diverse voices of immigrants, refugees, U.S.-born Asian Americans, multiracial Americans, and workers from industries spanning agriculture to healthcare.

His Name is George Floyd: One Man’s Life and the Struggle for Racial Justice by Robert Samuels and Toluse Olorunnipa

A landmark Pulitzer Prize-winning biography by reporters Robert Samuels and Toluse Olorunnipa that reveals how systemic racism shaped George Floyd’s life and legacy—from his family’s roots in the tobacco fields of North Carolina to ongoing inequality in housing, education, health care, criminal justice, and policing—telling the singular story of how one man’s tragic experience brought about a global movement for change.

Ma and Me by Putsata Reang (MCD)

When Putsata Reang was a baby, her mother saved her life. Over the years, Put lived to please Ma and make her proud, hustling to repay her life debt by becoming the consummate good Cambodian daughter. But Put’s adoration and efforts are no match for Ma’s expectations. In her startling memoir, Putsata Reang explores the long legacy of inherited trauma and the crushing weight of cultural and filial duty.

The Treeline by Ben Rawlence (St. Martin’s Press)

In the tradition of Elizabeth Kolbert and Barry Lopez, Ben Rawlence’s The Treeline is a powerful, poetic, and deeply absorbing account of the “lung” at the top of the world, the trees of the boreal forest that have been moving north for the last fifty years. Blending reportage with the latest science, this is a remarkable story of what might soon be the last forest left and what that means for the future of all life on earth.

Zarifa by Zarifa Ghafari and Hannah Lucinda Smith (Public Affairs)

Zarifa Ghafari was 24 years old when she was appointed mayor of Wardak, among the most conservative provinces in Afghanistan, and thus became one of the country’s first female mayors. This astonishing memoir, written with honesty, pain, and ultimately, hope, offers an unparalleled perspective of the last two decades in Afghanistan from a citizen, daughter, woman, and mayor, as she strives to improve the lives of women in her home country and everywhere.

2023 Finalist Judges


thumbnail_DLPP22_headshot_Jon Peede credit Vincent Ricardel

Jon Parrish Peede

is the former Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, where he awarded $500 million in federal grants to cultural organizations, universities, and scholars. His previous positions include Publisher of the Virginia Quarterly Review at the University of Virginia, Literature Grants Director at the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), Director of the NEA Big Read program, and Editor at Mercer University Press. For seven years, he served as Director of the NEA Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience program and taught therapeutic writing workshops for U.S. troops and military families. Peede is co-editor of a collection of essays on Flannery O’Connor and has published widely. He completed his B.S. at Vanderbilt University and M.A. at the University of Mississippi. He is Visiting Writer in Residence at Mississippi Valley State University and is a Senior Fellow of the Common Sense Society in Washington, DC.

DLPP22_headshot_Lisa Page credit Clarence Page

Lisa Page

is co-editor of We Wear The Mask: 15 True Stories of Passing in America, (Beacon Press). Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, LitHub Weekly, The Crisis, Virginia Quarterly Review, American Short Fiction, Playboy, the Washington Post Book World and other publications. She is assistant professor of English at the George Washington University and Director of Creative Writing. She previously served as Interim Director of Africana Studies. She is also a resident faculty member of the Yale Writers’ Workshop. She lives in Takoma Park, Maryland.



Peter Ho Davies’

most recent books are the novel A Lie Someone Told You About Yourself and his first work of nonfiction The Art of Revision: The Last Word. Other books include The Fortunes, winner of the Anisfield-Wolf Award and a New York Times Notable Book of the Year; The Welsh Girl, long-listed for the Man Booker Prize and a London Times bestseller; as well as two critically acclaimed collections of short stories. A recipient of the PEN/Malamud and PEN/Macmillan awards, his fiction has appeared in Harpers, The AtlanticThe Paris Review and Granta and been anthologized in O. Henry Prize Stories and Best American Short Stories. Born in Britain to Welsh and Chinese parents, he now teaches in the MFA program at the University of Michigan.

DLPP22_headshot_Lou Ann Walker(c)2012 by Star Black30(1)

  Lou Ann Walker 

is the author of A Loss for Words (HarperCollins), a memoir about growing up with Deaf parents, which won the Christopher Award and was a Book of the Month Club selection. Her fiction and nonfiction have appeared in: Oprah, The New York Times Magazine, The New York Times Book Review, Allure, Esquire, The Hopewell Review, The Writer, and American Photo.Other books include Roy Lichtenstein: The Artist at Work (Penguin) and Hand, Heart & Mind: The Story of the Education of Deaf People in America (Dial). Walker has taught ASL at Marymount Manhattan and Columbia University Medical School. Formerly an editor at Esquire and New York magazines, and a consulting editor for New York Woman, she is a recipient of a Marguerite Higgins Reporting Award, and grants from the Rockefeller Foundation and the NEA. She is a professor in Stony Brook University’s MFA creative writing program where served as director for three years. Founder and Executive Editor of TSR: The Southampton Review, a literary and arts journal, she lives in Sag Harbor, New York.

2023 Awards Ceremony

The 2023 Awards Ceremony was held at 5:00 pm on Sunday, November 12th, 2023, at the Benjamin and Marian Schuster Performing Arts Center at One West Second Street in Dayton, Ohio. Gilbert King was the Master of Ceremonies.

2023 Award Winners and Runners-up

Richard C. Holbrooke Award Sandra Cisneros

Fiction Award Geraldine Brooks for Horse

Nonfiction Award Robert Samuels & Toluse Olorunnipa for His Name Is George Floyd: One Man’s Life and the Struggle for Racial Justice

Fiction Runner-up Lily Brooks-Dalton for The Light Pirate

Nonfiction Runner-up Adam Hochschild for American Midnight: The Great War, a Violent Peace, and Democracy’s Forgotten Crisis

2023 Master of Ceremonies

Gilbert King

Gilbert King is the writer, producer, and host of Bone Valley, a nine-part narrative podcast about murder and injustice in 1980s central Florida, from Lava for Good podcasts. He 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. King has written about race, civil rights, and the death penalty for The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Atlantic, and he was a 2019-2020 fellow at the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Writers and Scholars at the New York Public Library. King’s earlier book, The Execution of Willie Francis, was published in 2008. He lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.

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