Dayton Literary Peace Prize

Thursday, October 19, 2023
6 p.m.–8 p.m.

Pointz Center
Sinclair Community College

DLPP23_author series for krivak2

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

“As the descendant of enslaved African Americans, and as a person who was reared on land that once belonged—and to my mindful logic, still belongs—to Southeastern Indigenous peoples, I frequently contemplate peace.

I know it’s not a raised voice, but is it silence? I know it’s not a coming to blows, but is it backing away from a fight, the absence of conflict? I used to believe that peace meant serenity between bodies or nations or kin. When I became a writer—or I should say, when I accepted the fact that I’d always been a writer—I sought to balance a claimed calmness in my spirit with an acknowledgement of history, but history is not always a site of peace. A balancing—a peaceful journey—seemed an impossible task, like reversing gravity—floating up instead of falling—or putting blood back into a vein.

I have trod this writer’s path for many more years than I haven’t and I believe that peace equals naming. A litany of ancestors and chosen kin, an utterance, the tonal truth of what occurred, when few want to accept or even know the past. This is peace, even when the present or past isn’t joyful. This is peace: a knowing that my voice equals thunder, only because I am speaking an urged echo. The syllables I can claim only because someone now dead told me, Tell them. Speak. Write it down—all that I make is an again that was made before me.

My peace is a quelling of the fear that a story might be lost. This is what the dead ones passed to me: the toll, and the toil in this fearful time of breaking, but a courageous time of salvation, if we would but name. This wisdom is quick, what I’ve only just learned. Yet this is what I hope to hand to the newly speaking, before I, too, am called to leave.”

—Honorée Fanonne Jeffers


Honorée Fanonne Jeffers is a fiction writer, poet, and essayist. She is the author of five poetry collections, including the 2020 collection The Age of Phillis, which won the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work in Poetry and the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize, was longlisted for the National Book Award for Poetry, and was a finalist for the PEN/Voelcker Award, the George Washington Prize, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. She was a contributor to The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race, edited by Jesmyn Ward, and has been published in the Kenyon Review, Iowa Review, and other literary publications. Jeffers was elected into the American Antiquarian Society, whose members include fourteen U.S. presidents, and is critic at large for Kenyon Review. She teaches creative writing and literature at University of Oklahoma. The Love Songs of W. E. B. Du Bois is her first novel and was a New York Times bestseller, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction, longlisted for the National Book Award, shortlisted for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize, a Finalist for the Kirkus Prize for Fiction, longlisted for the Aspen Words Literary Prize, and an Oprah Book Club Pick.


Honoree Fannone Jeffers’ debut novel, The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois, is about the world of our ancestors, and lets them sing. Their high notes are legacy, history, tradition, and the mysteries of the spirit world. Their low notes are the atrocities of the Mid-Atlantic Slave Trade, smoothed over and often dismissed, yet impossible to ignore, thanks to the inherited damage that continues to contaminate society today. They sing of the early days when the Indigenous mixed with the African and the Scottish, and they sing of their descendants.

From the early days of what is now Georgia, in America, we visit Seminole territory, moon houses, Creek villages. This early America, with its society of slavers and the enslaved, is juxtaposed with the modern story of Ailey Garfield coming of age in the contemporary South. We watch as Ailey confronts familial responsibility, racism, sexism, and domestic abuse. For Ailey, the academic world looms as opportunity and refuge, even as street life in the city is also a reality for her and her family. Intellectual ideology provides hope but is also problematic; Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois do not see things, eye to eye. The Black community, as monolith, is deconstructed, here. We experience 20th Century America, particularly the Civil Rights Movement, as well as the complexities of drug addiction and the constrictions of marriage, through Ailey’s mother, her sisters, and her extended family.

This cacophony of voices is ultimately about love, even as heinous acts occur during slavery and continue in contemporary America. Depraved family members co-exist with righteous matriarchs and patriarchs. Class differences between lovers, colorism, and identity are also themes in this ambitious work. Jeffers celebrates the power of education and ideas, the community provided by the African American church, and the survival of a people confronting unbelievable odds. These love songs exalt literature and activism and are an invitation to us all to join in.

–Lisa Page,
2022 finalist judge

Book Excerpt

Miss Rose sitting on a porch. Beside her, a bushel basket of ripe peaches or tomatoes. The drunkards buzzing, but easily smashed with a swat. Early mornings, she starts singing, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” and that’s your cue to rise. To eat the heavy breakfast that will keep you full all day. Once you’ve helped her with peeling those tomatoes or peaches, there are weeds to be plucked from the garden, from around the vegetables that will show up fresh on the supper table. Fish need cleaning if Uncle Norman comes through with a prize. After dinner, the piecing together of quilt tops from remnants until the light completely fades. The next morning, it starts again. A woman singing off-key praises to the Lord. The sweet fruit dripping with juice. The sound of bugs.

I thought of what Mama liked to say: to find this kind of love, you have to enter deep country.

2023 Fiction Runner-up

The Light Pirate by Lily Brooks-Dalton

“Peace—or lack of peace—begins in the heart of each individual. If we cannot be at peace within ourselves, how can we be at peace within our families, our neighborhoods, our work places? If we cannot forgive those we love and hold with affection, how will we ever open our hearts to those we dismiss as enemy or fail to see as fully human? Perhaps the greatest question of our lives is how do we, as individuals, grow our hearts in peace and in love. How do we loosen the constrictions of grievance and resentment, how do we free ourselves from our biases and distortions of perception so that we may see more clearly, so that we may create more peace in this world? Deeply drawn characters arouse curiosity in us, allow us to look beyond surface differences, beyond the labels we reflexively impose, and, in doing so, we invariably come face-to-face with ourselves. We discover that we are not alone in our struggle to forgive, to love, to reconnect with life after loss and betrayal, that we are all, at some level, seeking peace in our lives. This is what literature offers, a place to locate in others—no matter how unfamiliar the character’s habitus or attitudes or life situation—the same heart that beats inside us, one that longs to be seen, to be part of a larger community, to love and be loved. And, it is in this understanding of our one shared heart, our one shared life, where peace can be found. “

–JoAnne Tompkins


JoAnne Tompkins is the author of What Comes After, published April 2021 by Riverhead Books. What Comes After was chosen by the New York Times as the April 2021 book group selection in its Group Text Column which called it a “nail-biting wallop of a debut novel . . . Powerful and inspiring.” She was a finalist for the Washington State Book Award as well as the Edgar Award for Best First Novel by an American Author. JoAnne Tompkins’s first career as a trial lawyer and mediator immersed her in lives disrupted by conflict, injury, and far too often violence and abuse. Yet, she discovered in many a resilience and passion for life that continues to move her. Her personal essays, short fiction, interview and poetry explore the possibility of finding grace in life’s darkest moments and have appeared in print and online journals such as LitHub, Writer in the World, and High Country News. She lives in Port Townsend, Washington with her husband and pup where she continues to work as a writer and editor. 

Book Excerpt

That’s how it will be, right? When they find my note later this morning. Everyone tracing back through my life, looking for devil markings on my skin. I’ve been doing it too. For days, I’ve felt tender spots on my scalp like horns might be pushing through. But I keep thinking about something Mr. Balch said last spring when we were walking back from meeting.

I’d started jabbering on about politics, ended up saying a certain leader of ours was evil. Mr. Balch, who’d been quiet till then, stopped and turned to me, all urgent like he could get. “Evil isn’t a person,” he said. “It’s not a political group either. Or a religion like some people think. Evil is a force. Like gravity. It acts on all of us. We’re all vulnerable to it.”


In her debut novel, What Comes After, JoAnne Tompkins weaves a complex, suspenseful story of the violent death of a popular teenager at the hands of his best friend. We learn of this murder-suicide on the opening pages and spend much of the novel finding out what lived below the surface between them. Tompkins creates a serious work of fiction from a subject matter more often found in the lurid tabloids at the grocery-store checkout. Whether the victims are school leaders, troubled youth, or some combination of both, the aftermath of such horrors follows a similar pattern in our media-driven world. The commentators move quickly from who, what, when, where, and why to the assignment of responsibility. Who or what is to blame? Before meaningful answers come to light, there is another inexpiable tragedy, and our minds move on to the next cursed town. What Comes After calls for us to linger instead in the broken community.

Tompkins resists the impulse among too many contemporary writers to preach at the audience about societal ills. She does not instruct her readers with tidy life lessons; rather, she renders a gripping story of heartbreak and redemption. She presents adolescent rage, parental love, sexual lust, religious faith, and the kindness of strangers as equally potent in the natural world, real and imagined. She makes characters suffer who we would not wish to suffer, and often they suffer for reasons rooted as much in their moral strengths as in their moral failings. In this, they reflect our own raw emotions back at us but on a tragic scale.

Contrary to its subject matter, What Comes After is not a dark novel. It is a work of quiet and slow and triumphant optimism that comes from the formation of an unexpected community: a loving dog in his final days, a pregnant teenager in search of a true home, and two wary neighbors who have lost too much of everything but not yet—not ever?—their humanity. The aptly titled What Comes After is a story of birth, and rebirth, and the many ways we pass through grief on the way to peace.

– Jon Parrish Peede,
2022 finalist judge

2023 Nonfiction Winner

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

“When I was a child growing up in New Orleans, I remember being inundated—in ways both explicit and subtle—with messages touting all the things that were wrong with Black people. It was a seemingly endless barrage of pathology that was wielded to suggest Black people were singularly responsible for the inequality we were experiencing. I remember a feeling of social and emotional paralysis, knowing that what I was hearing was wrong, but not having the language, the toolkit, or the framework with which to push back against it. I had little understanding of the historical phenomena that underpinned racial inequality in New Orleans and across the country. I did not have the historical acumen to challenge the ideas that I knew in my gut were dangerous and untrue.

How the Word Is Passed is my effort to write the sort of book that I felt like I needed when I was in my high school American History class. It is an effort to establish a clearer connection between the past and present. It is an effort to help the younger version of me more fully understand how the legacy of slavery has shaped the way that my city, my state, and my country look the way that they do today.

Without an accurate sense of history, there can be no sense of peace. We must engage rigorously with the past in order to accurately understand the landscape of contemporary inequality. Without a shared understanding of what came before us, we will continue to see fissures that break us further apart.”

–Clint Smith


Clint Smith is a staff writer at The Atlantic. He is the author of the narrative nonfiction book, How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America, which was a #1 New York Times bestseller, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction, the Hillman Prize for Book Journalism, and selected by the New York Times as one of the 10 best books of 2021. He is also the author of the poetry collection, Counting Descent, which won the 2017 Literary Award for Best Poetry Book from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association and was a finalist for an NAACP Image Award. His writing has been published in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, Poetry Magazine, The Paris Review, and elsewhere. Clint earned a Bachelor of Arts in English from Davidson College and a Ph.D. in education from Harvard University.


Clint Smith’s extraordinary narrative takes us on  a most remarkable tour. Remarkable in that he is showing us, so many of us, what has been in front of our eyes all of our lives. Through eight U.S. cities with a detour to Dakkar, Senegal, this poet and historian shows us the legacy of enslavement. He is asking readers to see and to think about the overwhelming remnants of “honors” to Civil War heroes and anti-emancipation monuments.

“The history of slavery is the history of the United States,” Smith writes. “It was not peripheral to our founding; it was central to it. It is not irrelevant to our contemporary society; it created it. This history is in our soil, it is in our policies, and it must, too, be in our memories.”

Smith grew up in New Orleans, but acknowledges that he did not think about the history of enslavement when, as a child, he walked down streets named for slave owners. Standing in front of a plaque installed by the New Orleans Committee to Erect Markers on the Slave Trade, he realizes that “After years of Black people being killed by police and having their deaths broadcast in videos streamed across the world, after a white supremacist went into a Black church in Charleston, South Carolina, and killed nine people as they prayed, after neo-Nazis marched in Charlottesville, Virginia, to protect a Confederate statue and reclaim a history born of a lie, after George Floyd was killed by a police officer’s knee on his neck, cities across the country have begun to more fully reckon with the history that made such moments possible—a history that many had previously been unwilling to acknowledge.”

Smith’s writing is beautiful—he is a poet, after all. The prologue opens with this lyrical sentence: “The sky above the Mississippi River stretched out like a song.”

Yet enmeshed in the eloquence, Smith’s book is replete with revelations. In one startling paragraph he writes about a free Black man who wanted to pay to be re-enslaved so that he could keep his family from being separated. “The love he had for his family outweighed every other consideration.” On Smith’s visit to New York City, he discovers that plots in what would become Manhattan’s Central Park, Seneca Village, had actually been purchased by free Blacks and whites from a white couple between 1825 and 1857. When New York City’s mayor declared eminent domain to create Central Park, their property, churches, and gardens were seized, and they were bludgeoned, dragged away. 

In May of 2019 Smith learned that a new museum on Liberty Island “put forward a new interpretation of the Statue of Liberty origin—that it ‘was intended, in part, to celebrate the abolition of slavery in the United States.’” Smith investigated. A French law professor, Édouard René de Laboulaye, was an “ardent abolitionist” and proposed the gift of the statue “to lift up the cause of freedom.” When sculptor Fréderic-Auguste Bartholdi crafted his first exemplar, “Liberty Enlightening the World,” the woman held a pair of broken shackles in her left hand. By the time the statue was shipped to Liberty Island, for political reasons, the chains had virtually disappeared under her robes. “My eyes moved to Lady Liberty’s feet, and I thought I could see the faint contours of broken chains,” Smith wrote of his ferry ride back to the mainland. “But I might also have imagined seeing them because I finally knew they were there.”

—Lou Ann Walker
2022 finalist judges

Book Excerpt

Across the United States, and abroad, there are places whose histories are inextricably tied to the story of human bondage. Many of these places directly confront and reflect on their relationship to that history; many of these places do not. But in order for our country to collectively move forward, it is not enough to have a patchwork of places that are honest about this history while being surrounded by other spaces that undermine it. It must be a collective endeavor to learn and confront the story of slavery and how it has shaped the world we live in today.  

2023 Nonfiction Runner-up

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

“It is, most often, the absence of peace that draws a journalist’s attention. We are pulled into war zones, natural disasters, political uprisings, global epidemics. Each crisis, and its aftermath, invites competing narratives. It then falls to the journalist to sort fact from fiction, all in the pursuit of clarity and “truth.” But the longer we immerse – through the act of showing up, through the art of listening, through the patience of observation – the closer we come to something more profound. We might describe this as “understanding,” a word so common we have forgotten its origins. It comes from Old English, understandan, which means “to stand in the midst of.” To understand does not mean we have arrived at the ultimate truth, but that we have – in truth’s pursuit – stood in the midst of the world, which is to see all of its dimensions.”

—Andrea Elliott


Andrea Elliott is a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist who has documented the lives of poor Americans, Muslim immigrants and other people on the margins of power. She is an investigative reporter for The New York Times and the author of Invisible Child, which won the 2022 Pulitzer Prize in General Nonfiction and was chosen by Barack Obama as a favorite book of the year and by The New York Times as one of the top 10 books of 2021. Elliott is also the recipient of a 2007 Pulitzer Prize for feature writing, a George Polk award, the J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize, an Overseas Press Club award, and Columbia University’s Medal for Excellence, given to one alumna under the age of 45. She is the first woman to win individual Pulitzer Prizes in both Journalism and Arts & Letters. 

Book Excerpt

To follow Dasani, as she comes of age, is to follow her seven siblings. Whether they are riding the bus, switching trains, climbing steps, or jumping puddles, they always move as one. Only together have they learned to navigate poverty’s systems—ones with names suggesting help. Child protection. Public assistance. Criminal justice. Homeless services.

To watch these systems play out in Dasani’s life is to glimpse their power, their flaws, and the threat they pose to Dasani’s own system of survival. Her siblings are her greatest solace; their separation, her greatest fear. This is freighted by other forces beyond her control—hunger, violence, racism, homelessness, parental drug addiction, pollution, segregated schools. Any one of these afflictions could derail a promising child.


In 2012 Andrea Elliott, a New York Times reporter, heard about extraordinarily difficult conditions in a New York City shelter where 432 homeless children and parents lived. 39 Auburn Place in Brooklyn. But she knew that reporters were banned from the heavily-guarded building. Outside she tried to make contact with residents who distrusted her. Until finally she met Chanel and her precocious 11-year-old, Dasani. Once Chanel learned that Elliott’s own mother was a Chilean immigrant and that Elliott had two daughters, she agreed to allow Elliott access into their regimented world.

What emerged from those moments of trust is extraordinary. For eight years Elliott followed Dasani, the whip-smart child who was truly the parent to her seven siblings, making sure the children were fed, went to the doctor, and arrived at school on time. And, yes, it was her job every morning to clean out the yellow plastic bin that served as the family’s slop bucket. In Room 449 Dasani and her siblings fought vermin and roaches, all the while protecting themselves from city administrators criticizing the family, withholding basic assistance. The family was given expired baby formula, bad food, and often spent nights without heat.

Elliott is a meticulous, respectful reporter. And painstaking. She is careful with every detail regarding Dasani’s family. Even as the children are divided up—pulled out of the homeless system to foster care, despite the fact that those labels are “more synonymous than distinct”—Elliott documents what those divisions mean to these people.

Near the end of Invisible Child Elliott reports that in 2020 a hoodie-clad young man shot a man with a semiautomatic pistol in Staten Island. The shooter was Khaliq, one of Dasani’s brothers. As a 14-year-old, “when he had lashed out violently a month after entering foster care and went to jail for the first time,” Elliott reported: “I’m never getting out of here. This is my future.” Khaliq had despaired after losing all contact with his father.

Elliott poignantly shows that when the systems that are supposed to support children and their families fail, the outcome is tragic. Dasani’s life was “touched by poverty, from childcare and education to housing and medical care. And there was no separating poverty from race—from the family’s constant encounter with individual and systemic racism.” In Elliott’s afterword, she writes: “To be poor is to be surveilled.” A heart-rending sentence. Surveilled and yet not enough of these government agencies effect change.

Not all of Dasani’s siblings escaped violent lives, yet through her investigation and compassionate writing, Andrea Elliott has given us an unforgettable portrait of Dasani, a true heroine.

–Lou Ann Walker
2022 finalist judge

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.


DLPP21_headshot_garnette-cadogan photo credit Eze Amos

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.

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

Menu for the evening of Sunday, November 13

Beef & Chicken Duo

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The 2022 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.

2022 Award Winners and Runners-up

Richard C. Holbrooke Award Wil Haygood

Fiction Award 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 ( ©2019.

The 2022 Awards Ceremony was held at 5:00 pm on Sunday, November 13th, 2022, at the Benjamin and Marian Schuster Performing Arts Center at One West Second Street in Dayton, Ohio. Gilbert King was the Master of Ceremonies.

2022 Award Winners and Runners-up

Richard C. Holbrooke Award Wil Haygood

Fiction Award Honorée Fanonne Jeffers for The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois

Nonfiction Award Clint Smith for How the Word is Passed

Fiction Runner-up JoAnne Tompkins for What Comes After

Nonfiction Runner-up Andrea Elliott for Invisible Child

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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