The sixth annual Dayton Literary Peace Prize, recognizing "the power of the written word to promote peace," was awarded yesterday to novelist Chang-Rae Lee and journalist-cum-memoirist Wilbert Rideau. Lee received the ten-thousand-dollar award for his fourth novel, The Surrendered (Riverhead Books), and Rideau won for his memoir, In the Place of Justice: A Story of Punishment and Deliverance (Knopf).
Lee's novel unfolds during the Korean War, examining the repercussions of violence in the decades that follow the event. "This is a big novel which steadily transcends any thematic constraints and steps into real art," says fiction judge Ron Carlson, adding, "the dimensions of the book insist on a gritty and complex understanding of our best impulses in the worst of times."
Nonfiction judge Eric Bates says of Rideau's book, completed after the author spent forty-four years incarcerated in Louisiana prisons, "For his reporting alone, Rideau has made a critical and lasting contribution to our understanding of a prison system that long ago gave up on the notion of rehabilitation. But his memoir goes far beyond the limitations of journalism. He brings to his story a deep devotion to the power of literature, drawing on traditions as diverse as Saint Augustine and Frederick Douglass to craft a dramatic and moving tale that is both deeply felt and richly observed."
The winners will be presented their awards at a ceremony on November 13 in Dayton, Ohio, the seat of the historic Dayton Peace Accords, initialed there in November 1995.
In the video below, Lee discusses his winning book with Leonard Lopate of New York City public radio station WNYC.