Disturbing the Peace Award for a Courageous Writer at Risk is given annually to a writer of a distinguished work of fiction, literary nonfiction, biography/memoir, drama, or poetry, who is courageous in dissent and has been punished for challenging an oppressive regime.
The five nominees for 2019 include Ahmet Altan (Turkey, in prison), Atef Abu Saif (Palestinian, living in Gaza), Asli Erdogan (Turkey, living in Germany), Ketty Nivyabandi (Burundi, living in Canada), and Marcia Tiburi (Brazil, living in France).
The award, which includes a $5,000 cash prize, supports talented individuals who embody Havel’s legacy while drawing attention to the many writers worldwide who bravely fight human rights violations. The winner will receive the prize at a Gala event at the Bohemian National Hall in New York on September 26, 2019.
Nominations for the award are collected each year from international institutions prominent in literature and human rights. A short list is prepared by the VHLF Award Committee and forwarded to the jury that selects the awardee. The previous recipients of the Disturbing the Peace Award were Chinese author Liao Yiwu (2018), Kurdish novelist Burhan Sönmez (2017), and Burmese writer Ma Thida (2016).
In 2018, the VHLF consulted with the following organizations:
The jury members for 2019 include:
Liao Yiwu also known as Lao Wei, is a Chinese author, reporter, musician, and poet. He is a critic of China’s Communist regime, for which he was imprisoned. After his release, he wrote several books under pseudonyms, all of which were banned in China but sold well on the underground market. His Interviews With People From the Bottom Rung of Society was published in Taiwan in 2001 and became his first book to appear in English, in 2008, as The Corpse Walker: Real Life Stories, China From the Bottom Up. A memoir of his prison years, For a Song and a Hundred Songs, was published in English in 2013.
Wen Huang is a writer, journalist, and translator who came to the United States after taking part in the protests at the Tiananmen Square in 1989. He studied journalism at the University of Illinois at Springfield in the early ’90s and now lives in Chicago. His articles and translations have been published by The New York Times, Fortune magazine, The Wall Street Journal Asia, The Chicago Tribune, The Paris Review, The Asia Literary Review, and The Christian Science Monitor. His memoir The Little Red Guard was published by Penguin Random House in 2012.
Kevin Klose is a journalist and former editor and national and foreign correspondent with The Washington Post. He is an award-winning author and worldwide broadcasting executive. Klose served as dean of the Merrill College from April 2009 to July 2012 and is currently a tenured professor. He came to Merrill from his post as president emeritus of National Public Radio, where he served as president from 1998 to 2008. Klose served as President and CEO of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty from 2012 to 2014. He is the author of Russia and the Russians: Inside the Closed Society (1984, Norton), and co-author of other books.
Elzbieta Matynia is Professor of Sociology and Liberal Studies and founding director of the Transregional Center for Democratic Studies (TCDS) at the New School. Her research in political and cultural sociology focuses on democratic transformations, gender and democracy, the borderlands of a shared Europe, and more recently on the challenges faced by democracies emerging with a legacy of violence. She is the author of Performative Democracy (2009, Paradigm) and An Uncanny Era. Conversations between Adam Michnik and Vaclav Havel (2013 Yale University Press).
About the Nominees:
Ahmet Altan (1950) is one of Turkey’s most-read novelists as well as being among the country’s best-known political columnists. He graduated from the economics department of Istanbul University. In the decades that followed, Altan worked his way around newspapers from the night shift, to the head of the foreign desk to managing editor to chief columnist. No taboo has proved too sacred to withstand his direct style and crystal-clear prose. In 2007, Altan became founding editor-in chief and lead columnist of the daily Taraf newspaper and remained in that position until resigning in December 2012. In the purge that followed the failed July 2016 attempted coup, Altan was arrested for encouraging the putschists by sending “subliminal messages.” He was sentenced to life in prison without parole. He remains in Silivri prison, outside the city of Istanbul. The appeals process is underway.
Altan said before his sentencing, “they may have the power to imprison me but no one has the power to keep me in prison, because wherever you lock me up I will travel the world with the wings of my endless mind… Like all writers, I have magic. I can pass through walls with ease.” Along with Havel before him, imagination, courage, a refusal to turn away, an unbending insistence on liberal democratic principles and human rights are moral givens.
Atef Abu Saif was born in Jabalia refugee camp in the Gaza Strip in 1973. He holds a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Birzeit and a Master’s degree from the University of Bradford. He received a PhD in Political and Social Science from the European University Institute in Florence. He is the author of five novels: Shadows in the Memory (1997), The Tale of the Harvest Night (1999), Snowball (2000), The Salty Grape of Paradise (2003, 2006), and A Suspended Life (2014), which was shortlisted for the 2015 International Prize for Arab Fiction (IPAF). He has also published short stories as well as several books on politics. He is a regular contributor to a number of Palestinian and Arabic newspapers and journals. In 2015 Atef was shortlisted for the International Prize for Arab Fiction, also known as the ‘Arabic Man Booker’. In 2018 he also won the Katari Prize for Best Arabic Novel.
Atef Abu Saif works as a spokesman for Fatah. In March 2019 he was left in critical condition after he was beaten, his fingers deliberately crushed. Now a spokesman for Fatah, the successor organization to the Palestinian National Liberation Movement, he is again able to move the fingers on his right hand. Through his work with Fatah and in his writings domestically and abroad, including in The Guardian and The New York Times, he has established himself as a voice for Palestinians and human rights.
Asli Erdogan is a prize-winning writer and human rights advocate. She works for Özgür Gündem, a pro-Kurdish opposition newspaper. Erdogan and twenty other journalists were arrested following the July 2016 failed coup. Despite her conditional release in December 2016, Erdogan’s indictment still seeks an aggravated life sentence for her involvement with the news outlet. Erdogan was previously the Turkish representative for PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee from 1998 to 2000. In 1990, her first story, The Final Farewell Note, won her third place in the Yunus Nadi Writing Competition. Afterwards, she continued to receive a number of awards and prizes for her work, including her story The Wooden Birds.
Erdogan was also more recently a writer-in-residence from 2015-2016 for The International Cities of Refuge Network (ICORN), an independent organization of cities and regions offering shelter to writers, journalists and artists at risk of persecution. Asli Erdogan’s second novel, Kirmizi Pelerinli Kent (The City in Crimson Cloak), received numerous accolades abroad and has been published in English. In 2018, Erdogan was awarded the Simone de Beauvoir Prize. She currently lives in Germany.
Ketty Nivyabandi was born in Belgium in 1978. She lived and worked in her hometown, Bujumbura, Burundi, until she was forced into exile first to Rwanda in 2015 and now in Canada. She has led street protests against the government and fights for women’s rights in her native Burundi. After a brutal crackdown on protestors and death threats for her criticism of the president’s effort to seek a third term (which he won), she left Burundi and now works from other locations in Africa and lives in Canada. She continues her activism, largely by using digital platforms, such as tweeting poetry and publishing statements on the digital literary space that she founded.
Poet, essayist, blogger. Her poetry, written mostly in French, has appeared in Words without Borders, World Literature Today, and Molossus, and in several anthologies. In 2012 Nivyabandi was selected to represent Burundi in the London Poetry Parnassus as part of the Summer Olympics. In 2017 she was invited to become a part of the Nobel Women’s Initiative. In March 2019 she spoke at the Geneva Conference for Human Rights and Democracy. Although she is not as well-known as some of other nominees, that maybe in part because she is a woman from a small country in Africa, where the human rights abuses are horrendous but unnoticed by the rest of the world.
Marcia Tiburi is a Brazilian writer and philosopher. She holds a bachelor’s degree in visual arts, advanced degrees in philosophy, and has taught at universities across Brazil. Her main areas of research are ethics, aesthetics, and the philosophy of knowledge. She has published philosophy books, among them the anthology As Mulheres e a Filosofia (Women and Philosophy) and O Corpo Torturado (The Tortured Body). In 2005 she published Metamorfoses do Conceito, and her first novel in the series Trilogia íntima, Magnolia, which was finalist of the Jabuti Prize, a well-known literary award in Brazil, in 2006. That same year she released the second volume A Mulher de Costas. She is currently working on her next novel at City of Asylum / Pittsburgh. She writes for specialized magazines as well as for the general press.
Tiburi has long been an activist/feminist and has been extremely critical of the potential rise of fascism in Brazil. She is affiliated to the Workers’ Party and ran for governor of Rio de Janeiro in 2018, finishing seventh. She left Brazil in 2018 due to death threats and harassment from the Free Brazil Movement, a group which opposes gender equality and women’s reproductive rights. Her case is a great example of the dangers facing outspoken writers in countries that are not normally considered totalitarian—but, in today’s climate, could be headed that way.