Women sweep top Dayton Literary Peace Prize awards

Chanel Miller’s memoir written after sexual assault at Stanford is the nonfiction winner

One of the bright spots of the pandemic has been the opportunity to do more reading. During the past six months, many of us have found ourselves checking off books we’d been intending to read or re-read for ages.

This week you can add a new group of impressive books to those must-reads. The winners and runners-up of the Dayton Literary Peace Prize were announced Wednesday. For the first time in the history of the award, both the fiction and nonfiction winners and the runners-up were women.

According to the folks at OverDrive, there’s been a huge increase in demand for public library ebooks and audiobooks since March. Usage is up across all formats and genres over the past several months and digital book checkouts worldwide have reached a new plateau. Not only is usage up, new users are also up 55 percent above the pre-COVID period.

And the winners are ...

The DLPP top prize in fiction goes to Alice Hoffman for “The World We Knew,” a novel that follows three young women in Berlin in 1941 who must act with courage and love to survive.

“Literature’s greatest gift is that it allows readers, and writers, to imagine ourselves living other lives, as other souls, in situations that challenge who we are and allow us to think about living a moral life,” says Hoffman. “In writing about the Holocaust, especially now, at a time two-thirds of millennials queried could not identify Auschwitz and 22 percent had not heard of the Holocaust, this novel may be the most important work of my career. I want my readers to experience what it feels like to be abandoned, ostracized, tortured, and murdered, as the result of being considered an outsider, just as I want them to feel what it is like to be loyal, to trust, to fight for justice, to love someone.”

The nonfiction prize goes to “Know My Name” by Chanel Miller.

In the wake of her sexual assault by former Stanford University student Brock Turner, little was publicly understood about Emily Doe. In this book, she emerges under her real name, Chanel Miller, to share the story of her trauma and recovery. “My voice is indestructible,” she says of her memoir. “And there is a girl out there, who may be feeling as suffocated or hidden as I once was. Late at night, she’ll take out my book, and we’ll talk about the hardest parts, lay bare our buried feelings, and nobody can touch that space, and that to me is peace.”

Runner-up in fiction is “The Beekeeper of Aleppo” by Christy Lefteri, a novel that puts human faces on the Syrian war with the immigrant story of a beekeeper, his wife and the triumph of spirit in an unrecognizable world. Says Lefteri: “Empathy is the beginning of peace. It is the seed from which peace grows.”

The nonfiction runner-up is “Biased” by Jennifer L. Eberhardt. Her research and data demonstrates how our unconscious biases shape our behavior, leading to racial disparities from the classroom to the courtroom to the boardroom. “Bias does its work in the shadows and in the open, reworking our brains, framing and distorting our relationships with each other, erecting barriers that limit how we experience the world,” says the author. “Until we understand both its mechanics and its menace, we’re hostage to its power and cut off from the full measure of our own humanity.”

Sharon Rab, chair and founder of the DLPP foundation, says in spite of their painful lessons, each of these books has a prescription for hope, a process to follow in order to right wrongs, a way for love of self and love for others to prevail.

Adding to the excellent group of winning books are this year’s finalists. In fiction they are: “10 Minutes, 38 seconds in This Strange World” by Elif Shafak; “Lost Children Archive” by Valeria Luiselli; “The Nickel Boys” by Colson Whitehead and “We Cast a Shadow” by Maurice Ruffin.

Nonfiction finalists include: "Grace Will Lead Us Home' by Jennifer Berry Hawes; “Our Man” by George Packer; “Say Nothing” by Patrick Radden Keefe and “What You Have Heard is True: A Memoir of Witness and Resistance” by Carolyn Forché.

The awards presentation has been postponed until June 27, so we’ll have plenty of time over the winter months to make a dent in an impressive book list that has put Dayton on the international map.

About the prize

Since 2006, the DLPP has been “recognizing the power of the written word to promote peace.”

Awards are given for books published within the past year that have led readers to a better understanding of other peoples, cultures, religions, and political views. The winner in each category receives a cash prize of $10,000. In 2011, the former “Lifetime Achievement Award” was renamed the Richard C. Holbrooke Distinguished Achievement Award with a $10,000 honorarium. This year’s Holbrooke winner is Margaret Atwood, best known as the author of “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

Each year the DLPP sends out a call for submissions to the awards coordinator at more than 240 publishing houses that have submitted nominations in the past. Six books are assigned to the First Readers — 78 this year — who rate and rank their books based upon specific criteria. Final decisions are made by two judges in fiction and two in nonfiction.

“Being a First Reader has exposed me to new, thought-provoking, well written literature,” says Elaine Johnson of Vandalia. “The books are not only about traditional war/peace issues but also about human conflicts to which we all can relate. These books reinforce the values of perseverance, sacrifice, understanding and acceptance of the differences in others; all traits worth striving for.”

Other ways to get involved

The DLPP committee has come up with a number of ways in which readers can become more involved with the books and authors. There’s a newsletter series, “Expanding Your Horizons While Sheltering at Home” and daily posts on Facebook feature a Book of the Day from the lists of winners, runners-up and finalists.

A virtual series called Turn the Page is moderated by author Gilbert King and features DLPP authors who discuss a theme their books address.

The next Turn the Page event will be held at 7 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 16, and will feature a conversation between Richard Bausch, the 2009 Fiction Winner for “Peace,” a novel set in the mountains of Italy with U.S. troops during World War II, and Andrew Krivak, the 2012 Fiction Winner for “The Sojourn,” set in those same mountains during World War I with a young man from Colorado who is a sharpshooter in the Kaiser’s Army. Both writers used family stories of war as the basis of their books.

Bausch’s book has been made into a film, “Recon,” that is currently playing at The Neon’s virtual cinema and began streaming Nov. 13. He will also discuss the experience of having his work translated to film.

This event is available for viewing at www.daytonliterarypeaceprize.org under Get Involved.

A virtual book club meets monthly. “We have read Holbrooke winners, winners, runners-up and finalists, so we have a treasure trove of books related to peace and social justice to choose from,” says DLPP program director Emily Kretzer.

The Dayton Literary Peace Prize Virtual Book Club will hold its next meeting at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 18. The featured book is “The Nickel Boys” by Colson Whitehead, an award finalist this year. Based on the notorious institution built in 1900 and originally known as the Florida State Reform School, the novel follows two Black boys who suffer the beatings and abuses that had become the subject of damning reports for decades up until it closed in 2011. Whitehead is the second writer of color and sixth writer ever to win both a National Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize for the same novel, “The Underground Railroad.”

If you are interested in becoming a member of the book club, contact Kretzer at emily.kretzer@daytonliterarypeaceprize.org.

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