**Download high-res images of finalist book covers and headshots here
WE GERMANS BY ALEXANDER STARRITT AND WHEN TIME STOPPED BY ARIANA
NEUMANN ARE NAMED WINNERS OF THE 2021 DAYTON LITERARY PEACE PRIZE
The Mountains Sing by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai and
The Road from Raqqa by Jordan Ritter Conn named runners-up
2020 and 2021 winners will be honored during a gala weekend November 13-14, 2021
Dayton, OH (September 22, 2021) – Two books about World War II today won the 2021 Dayton Literary Peace Prize for fiction and nonfiction: Alexander Starritt’s We Germans, a novel written in the form of a letter from a German soldier to his grandson, and Ariana Neumann’s When Time Stopped, a family memoir uncovering the secrets of how her late father survived the Holocaust.
The Mountains Sing, Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai’s sweeping tale of a Vietnamese family told by a matriarch who lived through the Vietnam War, was named runner-up for fiction, while The Road from Raqqa, Jordan Ritter Conn’s harrowing story of the road to reunion for two Syrian brothers, was named runner-up for nonfiction.
Winners receive a $10,000 honorarium and runners-up receive $5,000.
Inspired by the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords that ended the war in Bosnia, The Dayton Literary Peace Prize is the only international literary peace prize awarded in the United States. The Prize celebrates the power of literature to promote peace, social justice, and global understanding. Because last year’s awards ceremony was canceled due to the pandemic, both this year's and last year’s winners will be honored during a gala weekend in Dayton on November 13 and November 14.
The 2021 Dayton Literary Peace Prize in Fiction:
We Germans by Alexander Starritt, Little Brown & Co. Decades after WWII, a former German soldier pens a letter to his grandson reckoning with the impossible decisions he faced during his time as a soldier and then as a Russian Gulag prisoner, his guilt as a Nazi participator, and the difficulty of post-war life. Wracked with shame—both for himself and for Germany—the grandfather explains his dark rationale, exults in the courage of others, and blurs the boundaries of right and wrong.
Starritt’s statement on receiving the prize: “There's a memoir called Lark Rise to Candleford about growing up in rural Oxfordshire in the 1890s, so about the generation that would go on to fight in the First World War. Most of the villagers had never travelled as far as Oxford, a couple of dozen miles away – let alone to Belgium or Germany. Practically none of the participants in that war knew anything at all about their supposed enemies. My hunch is that the more people understand about each other, the higher the bar that generals and jingoists have to get over to convince the public that "the French", "the Germans" or "the Chinese" are baddies. And so I think that literature from elsewhere, along with cheap air travel and Netflix streaming shows from other countries, is an agent of peace and international understanding. Maybe it's too much of an Enlightenment simplification to say that greater knowledge can rein in humanity's more savage, clannish impulses. But humans have an inborn impulse to empathize, to feel along with those whose struggles they read about, which applies as much to what we hear about "the Russians" or "the Americans" as it does to characters in novels.”
The 2021 Dayton Literary Peace Prize in Nonfiction:
When Time Stopped: A Memoir of My Father’s War and What Remains by Ariana Neumann, Scribner. Ariana Neumann’s father was one of the few members of his family to survive the Holocaust, and when he died he left her a box of letters, diary entries, and other memorabilia detailing the experiences he couldn’t bring himself to talk about when he was alive. In When Time Stopped, Neumann dives into the secrets of his past, creating an unputdownable detective story and epic memoir of a family finding love and meaning while trying to survive amid the worst that can be imagined.
Neumann’s statement on receiving the prize: “Stories are powerful. They engage our imaginations and emotions, and remain with us in a way that data and facts do not. People forget numbers but they rarely forget stories. Writing stories allows us to humanise history, to learn from it. Elie Wiesel, a recipient of the Dayton Lifetime Achievement award, said in 2001, ‘We tell these stories because perhaps we know that not to listen, not to want to know, would lead you to indifference, and indifference is never an answer.’ We can use words to continue to divide and fragment ourselves or we can use them to eradicate otherness. It is crucial that we use them to tell stories that build bridges and craft bonds of community. We have got to choose the stories that we tell and the stories that we listen to. We must choose to fill the silence with harmonies. We must never be indifferent.
The 2021 Dayton Literary Peace Prize Runner-Up in Fiction:
The Mountains Sing by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai, Algonquin. Set against the backdrop of the Việt Nam war, The Mountains Sing tells an enveloping tale of the Trần family as seen through the eyes of the matriarch, Trần Diệu Lan, and her granddaughter, Hương. As Hương comes of age, Diệu Lan teaches her granddaughter lessons about what it takes to survive and live with compassion. Nguyễn brings to life the sweeping history and the human costs of this conflict from an underrepresented perspective while showing us the true power of hope.
Nguyễn’s statement on receiving the prize: “When I was a small child, I stood on the dirt road of my village in Việt Nam looking at the devastation around me, as well as at the people who had lost their family members or their arms and legs. I told myself, The human race would not be so stupid to wage another war. Yet growing up, I realized that I was naïve and that humans always find excuses for wars and conflicts. The Mountains Sing is my yearning for peace, for human compassion, for forgiveness, for hope, and for humans to love humans more. I echo my call for peace in the form of this novel, through the words of my character Hương: “Somehow I was sure that if people were willing to read each other, and see the light of other cultures, there would be no war on earth.” It is my great honor to stand alongside extraordinary writers who have been acknowledged by the Dayton Literary Peace Prize for their contribution to peace, social justice, and global understanding. May we work together to promote diversity in literature, give space for different ethnic groups to tell their own stories, appreciate our differences, and connect hearts and minds with our writing so that one day, our world can be ONE.”
The 2021 Dayton Literary Peace Prize Runner-Up in Nonfiction:
The Road from Raqqa: A Story of Brotherhood, Borders, and Belonging by Jordan Ritter Conn, Ballantine. Crossing years and continents, The Road from Raqqa is the harrowing story of the road to reunion for two Syrian brothers who—despite a homeland at war and an ocean between them—hold fast to the bonds of family. The book brings readers into the lives of two brothers bound by their love for each other and for the war-ravaged city they call home.
Conn’s statement on receiving the prize: “Reporting, by definition, relies on voices outside the author's own, so the first and most vital part of my job is the act of listening. It may seem naive to think that simply listening to others' experiences can help move us toward peace — interpersonally, culturally, or politically — but I think it can be a first step. The quiet act that precedes the urgent action necessary to work toward a more peaceful world. In writing this book, I had the joy of listening to the stories of Riyad and Bashar Alkasem, two brothers with diverging journeys away from Raqqa, Syria, the once-gorgeous and now-destroyed city they call home. In lives marked by war, each of them have worked to build a sense of peace. In their families, their communities, and inside themselves.”
Margaret Atwood, whose critically acclaimed fiction, poetry, and nonfiction have offered prescient warnings about the political consequences of individual complacency, was awarded the 2020 Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke Distinguished Achievement Award, named in honor of the noted U.S. diplomat who helped negotiate the Dayton Peace Accords. Atwood will accept the award at this year’s ceremony.
Winners were selected by a judging panel of prominent writers including 2009 Fiction Winner Richard Bausch (Peace), Diane Roberts (Tribal: College Football and the Secret Heart of America), essayist Garnette Cadogan (“Walking While Black”), and Anne Fadiman (The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down).
To be eligible for the 2021 awards, English-language books had to be published or translated into English in 2020 and address the theme of peace on a variety of levels, such as between individuals, among families and communities, or between nations, religions, or ethnic groups.
About the Dayton Literary Peace Prize
foster peace, social justice, and global understanding. Launched in 2006, it is recognized as one of the world’s most prestigious literary honors, and is the only international literary peace prize awarded in the United States. Inspired by the Dayton Peace Accords, the Dayton Literary Peace Prize awards a $10,000 cash prize each year to one fiction and one nonfiction author whose work advances peace as a solution to conflict, and leads readers to a better understanding of other cultures, peoples, religions, and political points of view. Additionally, the Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke Distinguished Achievement Award is bestowed upon a writer whose body of work reflects the Prize's mission; previous honorees include Margaret Atwood, Wendell Berry, Taylor Branch, Geraldine Brooks, Louise Erdrich, John Irving, Barbara Kingsolver, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, N. Scott Momaday, Tim O'Brien, Marilynne Robinson, Gloria Steinem, Studs Terkel, Colm Tóibín, and Elie Wiesel. For more information visit www.daytonliterarypeaceprize.org.
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