Dayton Peace Prize 2017

By Ahsem Anwar Kabir, Contributing Writer

This past weekend, writer and NYU alumni Patricia Engel (CAS 99’) received the prestigious Dayton Literary Peace Prize award in best fiction, for her newest work, Veins of the Ocean. Published last year, Veins is the story of Reina Castillo, whose brother is sentenced to death for throwing a baby off a bridge. Reina secretly blames herself for this and moves to a small Florida town to find anonymity. After meeting an exiled Cuban man there, gradually, she learns to absolve herself of the guilt.

In 1992, a war started in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Within three years, it had claimed the lives of 300000 people and displaced a million more. Finally, in 1995, Dayton, OH was chosen as the site of the Dayton Peace Agreement, a conference of negotiations led by ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke. This act ended the war. The Dayton Peace Prize started four years later to commemorate it, and the Dayton Literary Peace Prize succeeded in 2006. Today, the DLPP’s mission is:

  • To promote peace by encouraging people to read, share, and appreciate literary works about peace,
  • To promote the recognition of literature as a force in achieving peace, and
  • To establish prizes to recognize writers and the role their books play in educating people about peace.

The DLPP is local, but global: taking place at some of Dayton’s biggest landmarks, yet having honored writers from 37 different countries. It is peaceful, but active: working under such a mission statement, yet having started many outreach programs. And finally, it is honorable, but humble: enjoying an international reputation, all while remaining approachable.

The weekend itself is constituted by three main events. The first is a panel on Saturday night at University of Dayton’s River Campus. Then the following morning, there’s another panel at Sinclair Community College. At both of these panels, first the master-of-ceremonies asks their questions, then opens it up to the audience. Finally, the DLPP culminates in an extravagant dinner at the Schuster Performing Arts Center. Each of these events give the winners a chance to discuss their work with the audience, and to accept their awards.

The winners this year were:

Richard C. Holbrooke Award for Lifetime Achievement Winner- Colm Tóibín

Fiction Winner- Patricia Engel for Veins of the Ocean

Fiction Runner-up- Yaa Gyasi for Homegoing

Nonfiction Winner- David Wood for What Have We Done: The Moral Injury of Our Longest Wars

Nonfiction Runner-up- Ben Rawlence for City of Thorns
Engel was born to Colombian parents and raised in New Jersey. While she was here, she majored in French and Art History, commenting that NYU helped her in her earlier formation as writer with its “excellent professors” who exposed her to “a lot of wonderful and diverse literature and art”. She subsequently went on to receive an MFA from Florida International University. She is now a Visiting Professor of Practice in Creative Writing at the University of Miami and the literary editor of the Miami Rail. Congratulations to her for this great accomplishment.

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