The History of the Dayton Literary Peace Prize

In 1995 Dayton was chosen as the site of what came to be known as the Dayton Peace Accords. The accords were a last-ditch effort to stop the ethnic cleansing that had claimed more than 300,000 lives and displaced 1 million people. It was “the worst killing ground in Europe since World War II,” wrote Mr. Richard Holbrooke in his 1998 book, To End a War.

Ambassador Holbrooke chose Dayton as the summit site, an unimpressive alternative to opulent settings in Geneva, Paris, or Washington. Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, the largest in the country, provided stark accommodations for the nine participating delegations, sealed off the press, and displayed America’s air power. This environment augmented Holbrook’s use of the “Big Bang” strategy—now known in diplomacy circles as a “Dayton”—where negotiators are locked in a room until they reach an agreement.

Daytonians welcomed the negotiators and then formed human peace chains around the base, holding candlelight vigils throughout the 21 days of talks. Dayton City Commissioner Matt Joseph described Dayton’s response, “People reacted. There was a fire in Bosnia and it was brought to our neighborhood. We took our garden hoses and tried to put it out. We just acted like neighbors. That’s what we do in Dayton. If they’re in trouble, we’re in trouble.”

(For a greater understanding of the Dayton peace process, please watch the video below and read these two articles by Kati Marton, Holbrooke's wife, published in the New York Times on April 18 & 19, 2011: "Waging Peace With Justice" and "The Weapons of Diplomacy, and the Human Factor".)

What happened between Dayton and Bosnia after the accords were reached is especially noteworthy. In looking for ways to keep the “spirit of Dayton” alive, community members established citizen-to-citizen relationships with Bosnians through cultural and educational exchanges, trade missions, and international conferences between policymakers and government officials. Dayton also arranged a sister-city agreement with Sarajevo and hosted a “Concert for Peace” with the Sarajevo and Dayton Philharmonic Orchestras.

“We are 5,000 miles away and made a difference for people no one every heard of, and in a place almost no one knew was there,” says Commissioner Joseph. “We were chosen, and we took up the cause.” Community leaders created the Dayton Peace Prize in 1999 to recognize individuals who contributed to the peaceful reconstruction of a society torn apart by war. Archbishop Desmond Tutu (1999), William Jefferson Clinton (2000), George Soros (2002) and Richard Holbrooke (2005) were recipients.

The Dayton Literary Peace Prize Foundation is the successor to the Dayton Peace Prize. The DLPP is dedicated to celebrating the power of the written word to forge peace. Daytonians witnessed that words not guns stopped a war. An all-volunteer committee researched the award, discovering that only two other peace prizes existed in the world and no literary peace prize existed in the U.S. DLPP established the only international literary peace prize in the country. The DLPP annually presents awards in Distinguished Achievement, Fiction and Nonfiction, each winner receiving a $10,000 honorarium and the runners-up in Fiction and Nonfiction receiving $5,000.

Publishers and writers immediately responded to the call for nominations. DLPP established a cadre of first readers and final judges, brought together universities in support of the awards, appealed to corporations, businesses, local government and individuals in the Dayton area to launch the first award ceremony. The DLPP board asked award-winning local sculptor Michael Bashaw to create an award. Bashaw created a brass sculpture that evokes paper and quill and is inscribed with the author’s name and book title and the word “peace” in over 200 languages.

The announcement of the first prize was picked up by 244 newspapers throughout the U.S., Canada, Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Australia. The DLPP has continued to enjoy media attention during its fourteen-year history. Some of the coverage is available on the website under Press Room.

The Dayton Literary Peace Prize has built an international reputation—already standing among prestigious literary awards. The Lifetime Achievement (renamed in 2011 for Richard C. Holbrooke — the Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke Award for Distinguished Achievement) winners have included Studs Terkel (who gave his last public speech at the 2006 event), Elie Wiesel, Taylor Branch, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, Geraldine Brooks, Barbara Kingsolver, Tim O’Brien, Wendall Berry, Louise Erdrich, Gloria Steinem, Marilynne Robinson, Colm Tóibín, and John Irving.

Fiction and Nonfiction winners include both established and emerging writers: Francine Prose, Stephen Walker, Mark Kurlansky, Brad Kessler, Junot Diaz, Edwidge Danticat, Richard Bausch, Benjamin Skinner, Marlon James, Dave Eggers, Emir Suljagic, Chang-rae Lee, Wilbert Rideau, Nigel Young, Andrew Krivak, Adam Hochschild, Andrew Solomon, Adam Johnson, Bob Shacochis, Karima Bennoune, Bryan Steveson, Josh Weil, Viet Thanh Nguyen, Susan Southard, Patricia Engel, David Wood, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Hala Alyan,

Over the last thirteen years, DLPP has recognized writers born in and writing from the perspective of Algeria, Australia, Bosnia, China, England (5),The Dominican Republic, Ethiopia, Haiti, Jamaica, Korea, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria (2), Peru, Republic of Ireland, Romania, South Africa, South Korea (2), Vietnam, and the United States (32). We have received nominations from over 200 publishing houses, both large and small, including houses in Australia, Cambodia, Canada, England, Germany, Hungary, India, Israel, New Zealand, Scotland, Singapore, South Africa, and Sri Lanka.

The DLPP University Consortium and Library Consortium have significant outreach programs. Each year, the University Consortium, made up of colleges and universities in Ohio and beyond (we have university connections in Michigan, Virginia, New York, Utah, Pennsylvania, California and the U.K. and are working to extend the university connections through universities with peace institutes throughout the U.S. and beyond) presents DLPP programming for their students and the public.

The Dayton Literary Peace Prize Foundation remains primarily a volunteer organization, is non-profit and depends upon donations from individuals, corporations, universities, local government and grants to sustain its efforts.



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