The Vaclav Havel Library Foundation Award for a Courageous Writer at Risk

The Vaclav Havel Library Foundation’s Disturbing the Peace Award recognizes writers who share Havel’s passionate commitment to human rights and have suffered unjust persecution for their beliefs. The award is given each year 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 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.

Nominations for the award are collected each year from international institutions prominent in literature and human rights.

In 2017, the VHLF consulted with the following organizations:

A short list is prepared by the VHLF Award Committee and forwarded to three jurors, all of whom are acclaimed writers or activists.

2017 Award Jury Members:

  • Aleksandar Hemon, a Bosnian-born American fiction writer, essayist, and critic. His best-known novels are Nowhere Man (2002) and The Lazarus Project (2008). He frequently publishes in The New Yorker, and has also written for Esquire, The Paris Review, the Op-Ed page of the New York Times, and the Sarajevo magazine BH Dani.
  • Ma Thida, recipient of the 2016 DISTURBING THE PEACE award; writer, physician, one of Burma’s leading activists continuously advocating for civilian democratic rule and respect for human rights, including those of Muslim Rohingya minority. Ma Thida is best known for her documentary novel The Roadmap (2011).
  • Paul Wilson, writer, editor, journalist, radio producer, and translator. He has translated many plays, essays, books, and speeches by Vaclav Havel and has contributed essays, articles, and reviews to many North American and European publications, including The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, The Globe and Mail, and other magazines.

Members of 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, Board of Directors, 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, Board of Directors, Vaclav Havel Library Foundation

2017 Shortlisted Nominees:

  • Asli Erdogan (Turkey), a prize-winning writer, human rights activistcolumnistfor Ozgur Gundem, a pro-Kurdish newspaper, and former columnist for the newspaper Radikal. She was arrested in August 2016 and charged with supporting terrorism. Although she was released in 2017, she still faces a trial that could land her back in prison. Asli Erdogan’s second novel, Kirmizi Pelerinli Kent (The City in Crimson Cloak), received numerous accolades abroad and has been published in English.
  • Elif Shafak (Turkey), an award-winning novelist and the most widely read woman writer in Turkey. Şhe is an advocate of women’s rights, minority rights, and freedom of expression. She has been attacked and taken to Turkish court for her novel Bastard of Istanbul, which depicts the Armenian Genocide in Turkey. In 2007, Shafak was sentenced to 3 years in prison, but the charges against her were later dropped. Her work draws on diverse cultures and literary traditions, she is adept at new forms of social media, adding to her audience and awareness.
  • Burhan Sonmez (Turkey), originally a lawyer in Istanbul, founder of the social-activist culture organization TAKSAV (Foundation for Social Research, Culture and Art). He was seriously injured following an assault by Turkish police and had to move to Britain to receive treatment with the support of Freedom from Torture. Recipient of a number of literary prizes, human rights activist/advocate. As Turkish national and ethnic Kurd, he bridges political and sectarian divides. His latest novel Istanbul Istanbul was published in English in 2016. He lives in Cambridge and Istanbul.
  • Liu Xia (China), a poet, activist, photographer, and founding member of the Independent Chinese PEN Center. As the world mourns the death of her husband, Liu Xiaobo, human rights activists, artists, and democrats everywhere express grave concern over the state of his widow’s physical and mental well-being. English translations of her poetry have been published by PEN America, Chinese PEN, the BBC, the Guardian, Poetry, the Poetry Society of America, and Words without Borders. Her photographs have appeared in galleries throughout the world.
  • Serhiy Zhadan (Ukraine), an internationally known writer, with 12 books of poetry and 7 novels, and winner of more than a dozen literary awards. He has been engaged in politics since Orange Revolution. In 2014, he was assaulted outside the administration building in Kharkiv. Since he has made numerous visits to the front lines of the Eastern Donbas region involved in armed conflict with Russian separatists. In February 2017 he co-founded Serhiy Zhadan Charitable Foundation to provide humanitarian aid to front-line cities. He’s also involved in a rock band.