Vaclav Havel Library Foundation Announces Liao Yiwu as the 2018 Winner, Disturbing the Peace, Award for a Courageous Writer at Risk

The Vaclav Havel Library Foundation announced today that the winner of the 2018 Disturbing the Peace, Award for a Courageous Writer at Risk is Chinese author, reporter, musician and poet – Liao Yiwu (aka Lao Wei). As a vocal critic of China’s Communist regime, he spent four years in prison after publicly reciting his poem “Massacre” in memory of the victims of the Tiananmen Square military on June 4, 1989. He currently lives in Germany, under asylum but will be attending the award ceremony at The Bohemian National Hall in New York on September 27, 2018.

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. He will receive his prize from the President of the National Endowment for Democracy, Carl Gershman, during a Gala event in honor of The Honorable Madeleine Albright. This event is presented by The Vaclav Havel Library Foundation and the Bohemian Benevolent and Literary Association ( BBLA) and is open to the public.

The Vaclav Havel Library Foundation will also be bringing Disturbing the Peace nominee, Liu Xia to NYC to join Liao Yiwu at the award ceremony. After substantial pressure from German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the international community, Liu Xia was finally given her freedom to leave China. She arrived in Berlin on July 10, three days before the anniversary of the death of her husband, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, who had been under unofficial and illegal house arrest for eight years. Although never charged with a crime, Liu Xia lost her freedom due to her husbands 11-year prison sentence for drafting a petition calling for democracy and human rights in China.

The two Courageous Writers at Risk will be part of a panel discussion moderated by Carl Gershman during The Rehearsal for Truth Theater Festival, in honor of Vaclav Havel. The date and time will be confirmed on the VHLF website in early August.

About the Award Process

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 three jurors, who select the awardee. The previous recipients of the Disturbing the Peace Award are Kurdish novelist Burhan Sönmez (2017) and Burmese writer Ma Thida (2016).

In 2018, the VHLF consulted with the following organizations:

The jury members for 2018 included:

  • Novelist Burhan Sonmez, a human rights lawyer who was severely beaten and left for dead by security forces while taking part in a demonstration in his native Turkey in 1996. He was the recipient of the Disturbing the Peace, Award for a Courageous Writer at Risk in 2017.
  • James Ragan, the author of the poetry collections In the Talking Hours (1979), Womb-Weary (1990), The Hunger Wall (1995), Lusions (1997), and Too Long a Solitude (2009) .Ragan directed the University of Southern California Master of Professional Writing program for 25 years.
  • Deborah Treisman, New Yorker fiction editor and host of the New Yorker Fiction Podcast, was the third member of the committee. Before joining The New Yorker in 1997, she worked at other magazines, including The Threepenny Review, The New York Review of Books, and Grand Street.

Their joint feedback in support of the Liao Yiwu nomination stated:

Writing on the most sensitive political topic of his lifetime, the Tiananmen Massacre, Liao was arrested and imprisoned. Like Havel, he knew government pressure from an early age, as his father was branded a counterrevolutionary. Though he lives in Germany under asylum, his works have been shared underground inside China, where he remains known.”

James Ragan added that, “Like Havel, Yiwu spent 4 years in prison. Like Havel, who authored Charter 77, Yiwu signed China’s Charter 08 replicating Havel’s call for reforms. Like Havel, his international awards and profiles in major world journals has spotlighted attention on all “courageous writers at risk.”

Burhan Sonmez concluded that, “Liao Yiwu’s life has been an example of persistent struggle for freedom of thought. He has been an underground writer, a prisoner, and an exile. His literary creativeness is the base of his resistance for freedom.”

The other three nominees for 2018 included Ahmet Altan (Turkey), Ketty Nivyabandi (Burundi/Canada) and Patrice Nganang (Cameroon/USA).

 Members of the VHLF Award Committee are:

  • Elizabeth Littlefield, governor, Off-The-Record
  • Pavla Niklova, VHLF executive director
  • Martin Palous, former ambassador of the Czech Republic to the United Nationas and the United States, and president, VHLF board of directors
  • Bill Shipsey, chair, Art for Amnesty, Amnesty International, and member of the VHLF board of directors
  • Lise Stone, member of the VHLF board of directors
  • Salil Tripathi, chair, Writers in Prison Committee, PEN International
  • Marilyn Wyatt, consultant and member of the VHLF board of directors

Press release: DISTURBING THE PEACE, Havel Foundation Award 2018

The Vaclav Havel Center