Eli Saslow’s Rising Out of Hatred, which chronicles the awakening of a prominent young white supremacist, and Golnaz Hashemzadeh Bonde’s What We Owe, a story of Iranian refugees living in Sweden, today were named the winners of the 2019 Dayton Literary Peace Prize for nonfiction and fiction, respectively.
Tigerland, Wil Haygood’s story of two sports teams from a poor, black high school in Ohio who both become state champions in 1969, was named runner-up for nonfiction. Richard Powers’ The Overstory, a novel about nine Americans whose unique life experiences with trees bring them together to address the impact humans have had on forests, was named the fiction runner-up.
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. This year’s winners will be honored at a gala ceremony in Dayton on November 3rd.
“This year’s winners explore four of the most pressing issues facing our planet today – climate change, white supremacy, racial and economic inequality, and the plight of refugees,” said Sharon Rab, Chair of the Dayton Literary Peace Prize Foundation. “With grace, empathy, and creativity, each author reminds us that while hate, racism, violence, and destruction have long-term impact, individuals can take meaningful steps that move families, communities, and societies closer to peace, resolution, and reconciliation.”
The 2019 Dayton Literary Peace Prize in Nonfiction:
In Rising Out of Hatred (Doubleday), Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Eli Saslow tells the powerful story of how prominent white supremacist and radio host Derek Black changed his heart and mind. With great empathy and narrative verve, Saslow explores how white-supremacist ideas migrated from the far-right fringe to the White House through the intensely personal saga of one man who eventually disavowed everything he was taught to believe, at tremendous personal cost.
On receiving the Prize, Saslow said: “What I appreciate most about my job as a reporter is it allows me a passport to spend time in places I wouldn’t otherwise go, with people I wouldn’t otherwise meet — and hopefully I get to take the reader along with me. That act feels even more essential at a time when Americans are increasingly isolated into our own bubbles by technology, by class, by ideology, and by geography. The best nonfiction journalism requires thorough investigation, but ultimately it is also an act of understanding, empathy, and peace.”
The 2019 Dayton Literary Peace Prize in Fiction:
What We Owe (Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt) by Golnaz Hashemzadeh Bonde is an extraordinary story of Iranian refugees living in Sweden. Exploring exile, dislocation, and the emotional minefields between mothers and daughters, it is a tale of love, guilt and dreams for a better future, vibrating with both sorrow and an unquenchable joie de vivre. With its startling honesty, dark wit, and irresistible momentum, What We Owe introduces a fierce and necessary new voice in international fiction.
Bonde said: “My father tended to explain the unknown through stories. Not from his own imagination, but from telling whatever tales he could find—the kind of tales that dug deep into the human soul, and brought understanding. My first pet in Iran was a chicken named Papillon, and the movie Papillon is the first I remember watching. This was my father’s way of telling me about freedom—about how he, who does not have it, cannot stop fighting until he does. War and the fight for freedom eventually made us flee Iran for Sweden. How do you make sense of a new country? Well, I was only three years old but this was done through stories. Through the work of Astrid Lindgren, author of children’s literature and the creator of several universes that helped me understand the beauty and pains of Swedishness. I am forever grateful for these tales, for how reading them made me feel as if I were part of them. The strength of the written world, in creating empathy and reflection, is the most powerful thing I know. But I wish there had been tales that could tell my new country about me. Who I was, the refugee child. Why I had come, what I had brought, what my contribution would be. There were none of these stories when I grew up. I am honored to now be taking part in creating them, and thus help humanize the displaced.”
The 2019 Dayton Literary Peace Prize Runner-Up in Nonfiction:
In Tigerland (Knopf), Wil Haygood, the author of the best-selling The Butler, tells the emotional, inspiring story of two teams from a poor, black, segregated high school in Ohio, who, in the midst of the racial turbulence of 1968 and 1969, win the Ohio state baseball and basketball championships in the same year.
Haygood said: “The mission that I gave myself in writing Tigerland was to excavate a forgotten story set against the America of 1968-69. Having earlier traveled the world as a correspondent to war zones, I came across a story in Columbus, Ohio, of black high school athletes set loose in that fiery year. Their peace-hungering hero, Martin Luther King Jr., had fallen to a white supremacist. The Tigers of East High School unleashed their talents not in the fires of the time, but on the basketball courts and baseball diamonds, winning two state championships in those sports that year. It was a history-making moment for them, and for the black and white coalition that supported their rise to glory. The black athlete – then as now – has never been far from the social and political swirl of America. Literature is the whistle that won’t stop blowing at game’s end; the stories go on and on. I’m both honored and touched by the recognition given this saga by the Dayton Literary Peace Prize Committee.”
The 2019 Dayton Literary Peace Prize Runner-Up in Fiction:
Winner of the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, The Overstory (W. W. Norton & Company) by Richard Powers is a sweeping, impassioned work of activism and resistance that is also a stunning evocation of—and paean to—the natural world. There is a world alongside ours — vast, slow, interconnected, resourceful, magnificently inventive, and almost invisible to us. This is the story of a handful of people who learn how to see that world and are drawn into its unfolding catastrophe.
Powers said: “No justice, no peace. No kinship, no justice. No empathy, no kinship. Reading and writing are exercises in empathy: How would the urgencies of the world look and feel, if I could get beyond myself? The best way to get beyond the self is a good story. No good stories, no peace.”
Organizers previously announced that writer N. Scott Momaday, who for more than half a century has illuminated both the ancient and contemporary lives of Native Americans through fiction, essays, and poetry, will receive the 2019 Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke Distinguished Achievement Award, named in honor of the noted U.S. diplomat who helped negotiate the Dayton Peace Accords.
Winners were selected by a judging panel of prominent writers including Lesley Nneka Arimah (What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky), Bob Shacochis (The Woman Who Lost Her Soul), Brando Skyhorse (The Madonnas of Echo Park), and Helen Thorpe (Soldier Girls: The Battles Of Three Women At Home And At War; The Newcomers: Finding Refuge, Friendship, and Hope in an American Classroom).
To be eligible for the 2019 awards, English-language books had to be published or translated into English in 2018 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
The Dayton Literary Peace Prize honors writers whose work uses the power of literature to 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 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 Wendell Berry, Taylor Branch, Geraldine Brooks, Louise Erdrich, John Irving, Barbara Kingsolver, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, Tim O’Brien, Marilynne Robinson, Gloria Steinem, Studs Terkel, Colm Tóibín, and Elie Wiesel.