On Sunday night, both the 2020 and 2021 winners of the Dayton Literary Peace Prize accepted their awards in an in-person ceremony—including Chanel Miller, who won the 2020 Prize for nonfiction for her memoir Know My Name. Dayton, Ohio is the hometown of Brock Turner, who was convicted of sexually assaulting Miller, and some Dayton residents wrote letters supporting Turner prior to his lenient sentencing. In her speech, Miller movingly spoke about reclaiming Dayton, a hostile environment, for herself:
Given the details of my assault, I was nervous for a long time to come to Dayton, Ohio. I was tempted to stay at home, greet you safely from behind a screen, but I decided I wanted to give myself a chance to form my own memory of this place. So thank you to everyone at the Dayton Literary Peace Prize Foundation. Tonight I stand looking out at all of you. And this is the image I will take. This is the memory you have now gifted me. Thank you.
Among other topics, Miller discussed how hateful narratives give her motivation to write:
The most important reason that I write is to compete. When I write, I show up to compete not with other authors, but with the voices I know that are coming to unleash hell on the next survivor. The brutal voices I encountered in the courtroom, online chat rooms, the ones that hurt me, the ones that I can still hear, the ones I continually have to overcome as to remind myself that I am a notable author and that even if I wasn’t, I am still worthy of love and care. I know these harsh voices will find her, which is why I hope my book will find her faster. The better I write, the better chance I have that she is going to listen to me and not them. So I work, to make my voice strong, persuasive, honest, clear.
Watch Miller’s full speech, which touches on naming suffocating feelings, society’s duty to receive difficult stories, and eating with Gloria Steinem, below.