- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 2, 2011

CINCINNATI — An award celebrating the power of literature to promote peace has been renamed in honor of the late Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke. Author Barbara Kingsolver will be this year’s recipient.

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

Founder Sharon Rab said the prize organization wanted to honor Holbrooke’s international role in seeking peace and his special importance to Dayton. The longtime U.S. diplomat died in December at age 69 after surgery on his torn aorta.

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

“I love that the organization is honoring this sort of higher value of literature to create empathy,” Ms. Kingsolver told the Associated Press. “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.”

Ms. 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,” which follows 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 such as Sept. 11 and growing your own food.

Former Ohio Gov. Bob Taft chaired the selection committee and said Ms. Kingsolver’s work reflects Holbrooke’s mission to forge peace and understanding.

“She leaves the reader with a sense of urgency about the topic she cares for most: the complex nature of what it takes to live together peacefully and creatively,” Mr. Taft said in a statement.

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

She said Tuesday that she was pleased about the winner, whose writing she said reflected Holbrooke’s 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 said she plans to give the award personally to Ms. Kingsolver. Winners of the organization’s annual fiction and nonfiction awards will be named later.