“Atwood is that rare writer who has achieved popular success while educating readers on the most pressing social justice and ecological issues of our time, masterfully employing a range of genres to reveal how easily we might slip into dystopia — but also showing us, with humor, rich world-building, and ingenious plots, the collective work we can do to avoid the fate of her eminently sympathetic characters.”
The Holbrooke award is named for Richard Holbrooke, an American diplomat credited with brokering the 1995 Dayton Peace Accord that stopped the war between Bosnian, Croat and Serb forces in the Balkans.
Originally scheduled for October 2020, the 2020 Dayton Literary Peace Prize gala has been postponed until spring 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
On winning the Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke Distinguished Achievement Award, Atwood said:
"What does writing have to do with peace?
Writing as the placing of words on surfaces — clay, stone, papyrus, vellum, paper — not much. Early writing was used to record inventories and to praise rulers, but not to encourage peace.
But fiction writing is different. If the fiction presents its characters in the round — what they think, what they feel, who they love and fear — it’s impossible not to realize that those being read about are as human as those doing the reading. And if the characters are from other places or other cultures, it becomes less and less possible to dismiss such people as not like us and therefore not our fellow mortals.
Writers are limited in their range — in what they are able to write about — whereas readers are not. Readers can read across the whole sweep of human experience — as far back in the past as they can see, as far afield as they can reach, as far into the future as it is possible to imagine. The closer we are to a person, the psychiatrists tell us, the harder it is to actually murder them. Perhaps that is the way in which reading is conducive to peace: it brings us closer together. If I feel I know you, understand you, and like you, why would I wish to make war on you?
That, at any rate, is our hope. We could certainly use a little hope, right about now."
Atwood will join the ranks of past winners of the Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke Distinguished Achievement Award, formerly called the Lifetime Achievement Award, including Studs Terkel (2006), Elie Wiesel (2007), Taylor Branch (2008), Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn (2009), Geraldine Brooks (2010), Barbara Kingsolver (2011), Tim O’Brien (2012), Wendell Berry (2013), Louise Erdrich (2014), Gloria Steinem (2015), Marilynne Robinson (2016), Colm Tóibín (2017), John Irving (2018), and N. Scott Momaday (2019).