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US Literature Award Renamed for Richard Holbrooke


An award celebrating the power of literature to promote peace has been renamed in honour of the late Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, and author Barbara Kingsolver will be this year’s recipient.

The Dayton Literary Peace Prize‘s lifetime achievement award was first given in 2006. It was inspired by the Dayton peace accords on Bosnia brokered by Holbrooke in 1995 negotiations at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near the southwest Ohio city.

Founder Sharon Rab says that the prize organisation wanted to honour Holbrooke’s international role in seeking peace and his special importance to Dayton. The longtime U.S. diplomat died last December at age 69 following surgery on his torn aorta.

Kingsolver will receive the Richard C. Holbrooke Distinguished Achievement Award in Dayton on 13 November. It carries a $10,000 prize; the peace prize group is supported by a combination of corporations, schools, groups that promote the arts, and private donors.

“I love that the organisation is honouring this sort of higher value of literature to create empathy,” said Kingsolver. “For the duration of a novel we are experiencing another person’s life … the creation of empathy for the theoretical stranger can cultivate peace. You can’t bang anyone over the head with a stick and make peace; you only do by convincing people that strangers’ lives are valid and equal to their own; that’s what literature does.”

Kingsolver said she was “astonished and very happy” to join previous winners who are “like a partial list of my heroes”. They include Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel, the late Chicago-based author Studs Terkel, and Taylor Branch, who chronicled the civil rights struggle.

Her award-winning novels include The Poisonwood Bible, about an American family set in post-colonial Africa, and The Lacuna, following a young Mexican-American man in a 20th century era of radical politics, world war and fears of communism. She also has written nonfiction, essays and poetry on topics from 11 September to growing your own food.

Holbrooke’s widow, author-journalist Kati Marton, called the award a very special tribute to him.

She said she was pleased about the winner, whose writing she said reflected his belief in “humanism and the perfectibility of mankind. There’s a deep optimism in her work, which is absolutely appropriate. Until his last breath, he was an optimist. He did not believe that any war was inevitable”.

She plans to personally give the award to Kingsolver. Winners of the organisation’s annual fiction and non-fiction awards will be named later.

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