Andrey Kurkov Wins the 2022 Disturbing the Peace Award to a Courageous Writer at Risk

The Vaclav Havel Library Foundation announced today that the winner of the 2022 Disturbing the Peace Award to a Courageous Writer at Risk is Andrey Kurkov, Ukrainian writer of screenplays and author of critically acclaimed novels.

Kurkov is the author of twenty screenplays and nineteen novels, including the bestselling Death and the Penguin, first published in Russian in 1996. In 2018 Kurkov was elected the president of PEN Ukraine, a cultural and human rights nonprofit organization. He is a respected commentator on Ukraine and since Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 has been an important source of information and analysis about the war for domestic and foreign audiences.

Kurkov’s works have been popular in the former Soviet Union since the 1990s, but he remained relatively unknown elsewhere until Death and the Penguin was published in English in 2001. Kurkov’s best-known works include The Bickford Fuse (2009) and the children’s book The Adventures of Baby Vacuum Cleaner Gosha (2008). His latest novel, The Grey Bees, was published in the United States by Deep Vellum in April 2022.

Kurkov was born in present-day Russia in 1961 and moved with his family to Kyiv in 1963. During his younger years he served as a prison guard in Odessa before writing full time. He considers himself Ukrainian but, like many Ukrainians, speaks and writes in Russian. Kurkov struggled to find publishers for his absurdist and philosophical work under the Soviet Union and relied mainly on friends’ samizdat style distribution of his works.

In early 2005, Kurkov was declared a persona non grata in Russia. After the war began, Kurkov moved from his countryside home to Kyiv, where he broadcasts a regular Letter from Ukraine on BBC Radio 4.

About the Award

The Vaclav Havel Library Foundation’s annual Disturbing the Peace Award for a Courageous Writer at Risk recognizes writers who share President Vaclav 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, memoire, 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 Disturbing the Peace Award are collected each year from international institutions prominent in literature and human rights. A short list of nominations is prepared by the VHLF Award Committee and forwarded to a small group of jurors, who select the awardee.
The previous recipients of the Disturbing the Peace Award are Belarusian poet Dmitri Strotsev (2021); Cuban author Angel Santiesteban Prats (2020); Turkish writer and journalist Asli Erdogan (2019); Chinese author, reporter, musician, and poet Liao Yiwu (2018); Kurdish novelist Burhan Sönmez (2017); and Burmese writer Ma Thida (2016).

In 2022, the foundation received nominations from Amnesty International, PEN International Vaclav Havel Library, and Words without Borders.

Members of the jury for 2022 were:

Richard Cohen is the author of four books, Making History, The Storytellers Who Shaped the Past, Chasing the Sun: The Epic story of the Star that Gives Us Life, How to Write Like Tolstoy, A Journey into the Minds of Our Greatest Writers, and By the Sword, a history of sword fighting. He is the founder of the book publisher Richard Cohen Books.

Joanne Leedom-Ackerman is a novelist, short story writer, and journalist. Her works of fiction include The Dark Path to the River and No Marble Angels. She is editor of the Journal of the Journey of Liu Xiaobo: From Dark Horse to Nobel Laureate. She is a Vice President Emeritus of Pen International and was the International Secretary of PEN International and former chair of Pen International’s Writers in Prison Committee and past president of PEN Center USA.

Dmitri Strotsev, Belarusian poet and publisher, the author of seventeen books of poetry. He has published samizdat literature of the Soviet period and works by Minsk poets. Since the mid-2000s, Strotsev has chronicled state repression in Belarus in poetic form. He describes the political crisis in Belarus in his poetic cycle Belarus Overturned that has been translated into more than fifteen languages. Strotsev is the recipient of the 2021 Disturbing the Peace Award.

The other nominees for the 2022 Disturbing the Peace Award were Akram Aylisli (Azerbaijan), Kakwenza Rukirabashaija (Uganda), Oleg Sentsov (Ukraine), and Anand Teltumbde (India).

The members of the VHLF Award Committee are Tamar Newberger, computer scientist and activist; Pavla Niklova, VHLF executive director; Martin Palous, former ambassador of the Czech Republic to the United Nations and the United States and president, VHLF board of directors; Lise Stone, vice-chair, VHLF board of directors; Salil Tripathi, former chair of Writers in Prison Committee, board member, PEN International; and Marilyn Wyatt, vice-chair, VHLF board of directors.

Press release: DISTURBING THE PEACE, Havel Foundation Award 2022