Vaclav Havel Library Foundation Award for a Courageous Writer at Risk


Vaclav Havel (1936-2011) was a playwright, essayist, political dissident, and president of Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic. He became well known as a dramatist in the 1960s, when his plays The Garden Party and The Memorandum were performed on theatre stages around the world. In the period of political orthodoxy that arose in Czechoslovakia in the late 1960s, Communist authorities forbade the publication or performance of Havel’s work. He still continued to write and became an outspoken advocate for human rights. In the 1970s, he was one of the authors of Charter 77—a manifesto calling on the Czechoslovak government to honor the human rights provisions of the Helsinki Accords, which it had signed. Over the next two decades, Havel would be arrested many times for his alleged anti-state activities and was sentenced to more than four years in prison in 1979. Throughout this time, Havel continued to write and advocate on behalf of oppressed peoples in his own country and elsewhere. Among his writings was his seminal essay “The Power of the Powerless” and a play, The Conspirators, which would first be performed some 35 years later.

Deeply dedicated to the cause of human rights, Havel, even while imprisoned, supported the efforts of like-minded individuals, forwarding what outside monetary contributions he received to others. It is in honor of Havel’s commitment to human rights that the Vaclav Havel Library Foundation would like to provide support to a writer who shares Havel’s values and has suffered unjust persecution. Given to an individual who has refused to be silenced, the Vaclav Havel Library Foundation’s Award will provide support to a writer embodying Havel’s legacy, while drawing attention to the many writers who are fighting human rights violations around the world.

The award will be given to a writer of fiction, literary nonfiction, biography/memoir, drama or poetry for a distinguished work that was published in English and that caused the writer persecution for expressing freedom of opinion and challenging an oppressive regime. The award is accompanied by a $5,000 cash prize.

The award is based on the longlist assembled by prominent institutions from the field of literature and human rights. The shortlist will be prepared by the VHLF Award Committee that will forward their recommendations to three jurors, acclaimed international writers. Thoughtful suggestions from the public are accepted before June 1 at

The VHLF Award Committee:
Elizabeth Littlefield, Governor, Off-The-Record
Pavla Niklova, Executive Director, Vaclav Havel Library Foundation
Martin Palous, former Czech Ambassador to the UN and the US; President, Board of Directors Vaclav Havel Library Foundation
Bill Shipsey, Chair, Art for Amnesty, Amnesty International; Member, International Advisory Board, Vaclav Havel Library Foundation
Lise Stone, Member Board of Directors Vaclav Havel Library Foundation
Salil Tripathi, Chair, Writers in Prison Committee, PEN International
Marilyn Wyatt, Member, International Advisory Board, Vaclav Havel Library Foundation