It can be easy to get lost in the world of literary prizes, nominations and general accolades that are embedded on the cover of favored books - but the Dayton Literary Peace Prize is unique.
The Dayton prize is the only award to consistently recognize literature's ability to promote peace, enhance social justice and foster global awareness.
The prizes are given out yearly in two categories: fiction and nonfiction. In each category there is one winner and one runner-up.
For 2010, the non-fiction winner was "Zeitoun" by Dave Eggers, which chronicles what happens when a Syrian-American man decides to float out Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans - and where he really goes when he seemingly disappears. Runner-up in the nonfiction category was Justine Hardy's "In the Valley of Mist," which is about the ongoing problems of life for one family in the contested Kashmir Valley.
The fiction winner was "The Book of Night Women" by Marlon James. The novel delves into the history of Jamaican slavery through the narration of Lilith, a half-black, half-white slave. The heart of the story is the complicated love affair between Lilith and Robert Quinn, an Irishman, and the story's climax comes when the town breaks out in riots due to a slave rebellion. The fiction runner-up prize went to "The Thing Around Your Neck" by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a collection of 12 stories that center on what binds us together as people and as a global network.
Sharon Rab, the chair of the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, wrote in a press release posted on the Dayton prize's Web site that this year's winners provide a deeper understanding of issues that are often only publicly discussed by pundits or cable news talking heads.
"From religious discrimination and immigration to racism and xenophobia, this year's winners tackle challenging issues which are too often debated with sound bites and rhetoric only," Rab wrote. "With wisdom, grace, and humanity, these books deliver much-needed relief from the political discourse, offering light instead of heat, and hope rather than despair."
James, this year's fiction winner, wrote that to him the prize is a reminder that literature can cause readers to react and create change in their environment.
"It can be lonely, believing that books can still change how we think," James wrote. "The Dayton Literary Peace Prize reminds us that the book is still our most eloquent tool to speak truth to power, and to bear witness to the good and not so good in human nature."
There were six book finalists in each category and the winners were chosen by a panel of four distinguished authors: Ken McClane, Cullen Murphy, Katherine Vaz and Nancy Zafris.
To be eligible for the fiction or non-fiction award, the book must have been published or translated into English in the year before their nomination and must address the topic of peace on a variety of levels.
In addition to the fiction and non-fiction award, the Dayton Peace Prize also gives out a lifetime achievement award, which this year is going to Geraldine Brooks, author of "March," "People of the Book" and "Year of Wonders." Previous lifetime achievement award winners include Nicholas Kristof, Sheryl WuDunn, Elie Wiesel and Studs Terkel.
The lifetime achievement award winner, the fiction and the non-fiction award winner will each receive $10,000 and the book prize runners-up will receive $1000 each. All the winners will be honored at a ceremony on Sunday, November 7th in Dayton, OH.
Nonfiction winner Eggers, who will be at the November ceremony, commented that, considering his book touches on the idea of xenophobia against his Muslim main characters the Zeitouns, receiving the Dayton peace award comes at an interesting moment for him and for America.
"(This) means that listening to each other (and) getting to know the people behind the headlines, means everything," Eggers wrote. "If we begin to listen to each other, to listen before speaking - before judging - then we go a long way toward a more empathic and peaceful world."
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