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Marina Nemat was born in 1965 in Tehran, Iran. After the Islamic Revolution of 1979, she was arrested at the age of sixteen and spent more than two years in Evin, a political prison in Tehran, where she was tortured and came very close to execution. She came to Canada in 1991 and has called it home ever since. Her memoir of her life in Iran, Prisoner of Tehran, was published in Canada by Penguin Canada in 2007, has been published in 28 other countries, and has been an international bestseller. In 2007, Marina received the inaugural Human Dignity Award from the European Parliament, and in 2008, she received the prestigious Grinzane Prize in Italy. She was the recipient of the Morris Abram Human Rights Award from UN Watch in Geneva, Switzerland, in 2014. In 2008/2009, she was an Aurea Fellow at University of Toronto’s Massey College, where she wrote her second book, After Tehran: A Life Reclaimed, which was published in 2010. Marina regularly speaks at high schools, universities, and conferences around the world and sits on the Board of Directors at CCVT (Canadian Centre for Victims of Torture) and on advisory boards at ACAT (Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture) and PEN Canada. She has a Certificate in Creative Writing from the School of Continuing Studies at University of Toronto and currently teaches memoir writing at the SCS. Occasionally, she writes book reviews and opinion pieces for the Globe and Mail and is a regular contributor to the Oslo Freedom Forum.
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I AM FOUR OR SO
I MUST BE THREE OR SO, IN THE WAITING ROOM OF MY FATHER'S DANCE STUDIO
My fifth birthday in Tehran
with my cousins.
SUMMER OF 1978 AT AUNT ZENIA'S COTTAGE.
ON THE BEACH
Students' ArtworkThis artwork wascreated by the Grade 11 students from the Technical Vocational High School in Winnipeg after reading Prisoner of Tehran.
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As a young child from a Russian Orthodox family growing up in Tehran, Iran, for me, Christmas meant going to a very long mass and getting terribly bored -- but it was all worth it, because after the mass, my grandma would rush me home and allow me to take a star-shaped cookie from the Christmas tree. My parents were not religious at all and never attended mass with Grandma and me. The Russian Orthodox were a very small minority in Tehran, and most of the people attending mass at our church were old women. Even though Grandma, or Baboo as I called her, couldn’t carry a tune, she was a member of the church choir. I remember her clearly, standing next to the other singers, who were all at least as old as she was, her gray hair gathered in a tight bun behind her head, her white blouse and black skirt perfectly ironed, and a little red scarf tied around her slim neck. I watched her as she smiled singing the joyful hymns, which had found their way out of her heart and were now floating over the little flickering flames of candles, images of the Virgin and the Child, and the congregation. I saw my grandmother smile almost only at Christmas and Easter. She was a very kind and generous woman who had lived a very difficult life, and, as she had explained to me, had forgotten how to smile. So Christmas became a miracle to me at a very young age because it was one of the two very special days of the year when I could see happiness in my grandmother’s eyes.
Even though the Islamic Republic of Iran has tried to pretend that it respects the rights of religious minorities in that country, in reality, this is far from the truth. This study demonstrates how the Iranian constitution openly discriminates against religious minorities and that even the basic rights that the constitution has granted the recognized religious minorities (Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians) have been systematically disregarded in one way or another.
In order to study the condition of religious minorities in Iran, it cannot be overemphasized that divine law is the unique source of legitimacy and political authority in that country. Even more important, it is critical to understand that the sole accepted interpreter of this divine law is the Supreme Leader. The Supreme Leader has control over all aspects of civil and political society; he is in control of the judiciary, the army, the police, the radio, and the television, and he also controls the elected president and the parliament.
DEMOCRACY IN IRAN?
The word “democracy” comes from the Greek "demos" meaning "people" and "kratos" meaning "rule,” but as the wheels of history moved along, it became evident that the rule of the majority can actually lead to a terrible disregard of the rights of minorities, so in the modern world, democracy is defined by civil and political rights. But will democracy ever be possible in Iran? In order to answer this question, we should learn a little about Iran’s history. In this essay, I will not attempt to give a complete history lesson, but I will do my best to help the average reader who doesn’t have the time or patience to read all the available books to gain a very basic understanding of the complexities of Iran’s history.
In 1935, Reza Shah Pahlavi, who was the king of Iran at the time, declared “Iran” the official name of Persia (Persia was the name by which the country had been known in the Western world for a very long time). The name “Iran” is a cognate of “Aryan” and means "Land of the Aryans.” A few Persian scholars protested this decision on the grounds that it created a break with the history of the country and that it seemed to be influenced by the Aryan propaganda of Nazi Germany, but Reza Shah argued that, in their own language, the people of Persia had called their country “Iran” for hundreds of years and that “Pars” or “Fars,” from which “Persia” had derived, was the name of a province in central Iran. He hoped that officially calling the country Iran would give it a modern image.
I LIVE TO TESTIFY
When I was 16 years old, in January, 1982, in Evin Prison in Tehran, two men took me to a small room and tied me to a bare wooden bed. I was lying down on my stomach. One of them, Hamehd, lashed the soles of my feet with a length of cable. With every strike, I felt like my whole nervous system would explode and then would magically be put back together again, ready for the next strike. I hoped to lose consciousness, but it never happened. After a few strikes, they untied me and made me walk. It was painful and difficult. Why did they do this? Walking makes the swelling go down a little. If they continue beating prisoners for too long, the skin would rupture, and, as a result, the prisoner could die relatively quickly from bleeding or infection. This staggered method of torture helps torturers maximize the amount of pain they can inflict. Torture is not designed to get information; it is designed to break the human soul.
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On Feb. 6, at the Canada Reads debates, Anne-France Goldwater called my first memoir, Prisoner of Tehran, untruthful. It's so easy to point a finger at another human being, claim that she has not told the truth, and walk away. But what if that person, the bullied, is a survivor of torture?
Suggesting that an account of torture is untruthful is like picking up the lash and beating the victim again. My feet literally hurt as I heard Goldwater's comments.
I have been called a liar, a traitor, and a whore before, but on those occasions, I knew exactly where those comments were coming from; I could understand their origins. They either came from the agents of the Iranian regime, a regime that has a long history of running smear campaigns against dissidents abroad, or from members and supporters of extremist Iranian political groups. By writing Prisoner of Tehran, I stepped on many toes, and it was only natural to get a reaction from those who saw me as a threat for political, religious, or ideological reasons. But why was Goldwater calling me untruthful? I couldn't see a reason for it. No reason at all. She was a Canadian lawyer. She was supposed to protect the innocent – or so I thought.
While I was in Evin, my parents came to the prison for limited and very brief visitations once a month. They sobbed as they looked at me from behind the thick glass barrier in the visitation room. I smiled. I had to hold back my tears, because if I showed any sign of distress, I would be tortured or maybe even executed for it. There were (and are) thousands of prisoners in Evin prison, and, in the eighties, the vast majority of us were teenagers. One of the priests from my Catholic church in Tehran brought a copy of the Bible to the prison gate, but the guards refused to take it and deliver it to me. I had been disconnected from the world and was drowning in a black hole of despair, injustice and pain. In Evin, I broke under torture. I signed every piece of paper they told me to sign, because I just wanted to go home and sleep in my own bed. I was only 16 years old. They told me that I had to marry my interrogator or my parents would be arrested. I complied. They told me I had to convert to Islam. I did. Then they changed my name from Marina to Fatemeh. I had lost my family, my religion, my freedom, my dignity, and even my name. How much can you take away from a person before she crumbles into dust?
It took me about 20 years to be able to look back at my past and write about it. It took me 20 years to discover that the Marina I was before Evin had died and that the new Marina I had become was a witness. No more. No less. I live to testify. Without it, my life loses all meaning.
Canada took me when I had nowhere to go. It allowed me to gradually find my way back to myself and to the reality of the person I have become, a woman who breathes because she has a story to tell, a story that is not only hers but, in a humble and imperfect yet honest way, is also the story of thousands of others who have been terribly wronged. People are being tortured and executed in many countries as we speak because they have dared speak against oppressive regimes and demand the freedoms that many of us take for granted.
Dear Ms. Goldwater: The witness is the cornerstone of the justice system. If we throw stones at her, we have taken a step toward burying freedom and democracy. Canada and Canadians deserve better than this.
Marina Nemat is the author of Prisoner of Tehran and After Tehran: A Life Reclaimed.
Special to The Globe and Mail
"THE IRANIAN DELEGATION WHO SAT IN FRONT OF ME..."
"The Iranian delegation who sat in front of me were basically telling the world
that my cellmates and I did not exist"
On October 31, 2014, the members of the Iranian delegation took their seats in the Human Rights Council Chambers at the United Nations in Geneva, facing the representatives of many nations and members of various NGOs to respond to the UN Periodical Review, which had made recommendations to improve human rights in that country. Mohammad Javad Larijani, secretary of Iran's High Council for Human Rights and advisor to the chief of the judiciary on international affairs, who was leading Iran's delegation, read from a text that claimed Iran was, more or less, the garden of Eden. He claimed that in his country, there were no political prisoners, no torture, no arbitrary trials, and no disregard for women’s rights and religious minorities. It was as if the Iran he spoke about was another Iran in another galaxy; it was certainly not the Iran that I was born and grew up in and spent two years as a teenage political prisoner. Iran has the highest number of executions per capita in the world, where torture is commonplace, and even juvenile offenders are put to death.
"It was as if the Iran he spoke about
was another Iran in another galaxy"
IN 1982 WHEN I was arrested, two men dragged me into a room, tied me to a bare wooden bed, took off my socks and my shoes, and lashed the soles of my feet with a length of industrial cable made of heavy rubber. Why the soles of the feet? Because our nerve ends are in our feet; with every strike of the lash, my nervous system would explode, and then it would be magically put back together, and I would be wide awake for the next strike. After a while, if the devil had appeared and offered to take me home if I sold him my soul, I would have. I signed every document they gave me without reading them. I confessed to everything they wanted me to confess to. Torture is not designed to get information; it aims to kill the human soul.
By saying that torture did not exist in Iranian prisons, the members of the Iranian delegation who sat in front of me at the UN were basically telling the world that my cellmates and I did not exist, that many of my teenage friends were not buried in mass graves in Iran. I took a deep breath and tried to swallow the nausea climbing up my chest.
What the representatives of the IRI failed to tell the world was the truth:
1. In Iran, the minimum age of marriage for girls is 9 years. There are two kinds of marriage in Iran, and in one of them, which is known as sigheh, a girl as young as 9 can be married off to a man in just a few minutes and has no rights whatsoever; sigheh also comes with an expiry date.
2. The testimony of a woman is worth half of a man.
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3. The testimony of a member of a religious minority is worth half of a Muslim.
4. Muslims are not allowed to convert to any other religion in Iran; if they do, according to the law, they would be considered apostates and could be put to death.
5. The Bahai are not recognized by Iranian law as a religious minority and are banned from even going to school. About 100 members of the Bahai faith are now in prison in Iran only because of their faith.
6. Iran is not a democracy even though it has elections. The Supreme Leader of Iran, who is Ayatollah Khamenei now, can veto the decisions of the parliament, the judiciary, and the president. The Supreme Leader selects the presidential candidates, and the people are allowed to only vote for a candidate who has been preselected.
And the list goes on.
The Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) is lying to the world. They took the stage at the UN, whose Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran, Dr. Ahmed Shaheed, recently released a damning report of that country. The IRI has not allowed Dr. Shaheed to visit Iran. If Iran is truly a utopia, why not allow a UN delegation to inspect Iranian prisons?
AS THE IRANIAN government tells fictional stories to the world, journalists, members of religious minorities, including Christians, Bahai, Dervish, political prisoners, representatives of labour unions, and journalists languish in prisons. Let’s not forget them, stand up to their tormentors, and ask questions to expose the truth. What keeps political prisoners alive is knowing that the world has not forgotten them. Bombing never fixes problems in the long run. Iran should not be bombed, because murder never fixes murder, and evil never cures evil. What the people of Iran need is moral support, and eventually, they will find their way, even though slowly and painfully, to democracy.
INTERVIEWS & TALKS
The Price of Protest
گزارش تجاوز در زندان اوین(2):خانم مارینا نعمت
Oslo Freedom Forum 2010
Prisoner of Tehran
In 1982, 16-year-old Marina Nemat was arrested on false charges by Iranian Revolutionary Guards and tortured in Tehran's notorious Evin prison. At a time when most Western teenaged girls are choosing their prom dresses, Nemat was having her feet beaten by men with cables and listening to gunshots as her friends were being executed. She survived only because one of the guards fell in love with her and threatened to harm her family if she refused to marry him. Soon after her forced conversion to Islam and marriage, her husband was assassinated by rival factions. Nemat was returned to prison but, ironically, it was her captor's family who eventually secured her release. An extraordinary tale of faith and survival, Prisoner of Tehran is a testament to the power of love in the face of evil and injustice.
"Prisoner of Tehran, Nemat's brilliant 2007 memoir, was at once an exquisite work of art about the burden of memory, and an astonishing story. Nemat details how she was arrested at 16 by Iran's Revolutionary Guards (for the crime of asking her math teacher for more calculus and less religious propaganda); her incarceration in the infamous Evin Prison (where she was beaten and tortured); her forcible marriage to Ali, one of her interrogators (her wedding -night rape graphically described); how Ali died and she lost their baby when assassins opened fire on them one night; how she escaped Iran for a new life in suburban Toronto. For two decades Nemat remained silent about her two years in Evin: her family didn't ask and she didn't tell, not until after her mother died in 2000, never having known her daughter's experiences. That galvanized Nemat to write her story, in an effort to quiet her demons and regain her life.
And it worked. For a while. After Tehran is Nemat's after-story: if her first book recounts her ordeal, the second counts the cost of telling about it. Once her memoir was accepted by her publisher, Nemat writes in her second volume, she had no idea what to do next, or even 'what next meant exactly: I somehow believed that I was supposed to die the day I signed the contract.' But the past wasn't done with her. As reaction to the memoir unfolded, Nemat had to cope with the responses of her family. Ghosts were resurfacing everywhere, some of them old friends she had thought dead, others fellow Evin survivors who decried her as a traitor who had literally slept with the enemy. Images of the baby she lost--that half wanted, half abhorred child--came to her mind, and when she heard a rumour that Ali was still alive, Nemat writes, "my world collapsed." So she turned to writing, as she had before, to stitch her life back together, in an account as graceful, honest, and revelatory as her original. –Brian Bethune, MacLean's Magazinewn.” –Heather Reisman, CEO, Indigo Books
In her new book, Nemat reveals how writing Prisoner of Tehran brought her back to life. Immigrating to Canada in 1991 with her childhood love and first-born son, she played the part of a hard-working wife, mother, waitress at Swiss Chalet, and after her parents’ arrival in the country, dutiful daughter. It took her mother’s death for Nemat to realize that her experiences in Evin, long buried and never spoken of, needed release. But the first 80 pages scribbled at the local Second Cup, followed by writing courses at the University of Toronto’s Continuing Education department, meant that Nemat faced an even bigger challenge than reliving her memories and the guilt she felt over the prisoners left behind: for the first time, she would have to reveal the entirety of her experience to her husband.
Like Nemat’s adult life, the memoir is split in two halves – before Prisoner of Tehran, and after, once she has entered the media spotlight. With her story available for everyone to read, Nemat found that some people were sympathetic and others accused her of treachery and lies. The thread that ties the book together is the author’s desire to understand her past, and to find some kind of peace and forgiveness in her heart.
In Portuguese (Brazil):
AWARDS & NOMINATIONS
MORRIS ABRAM HUMAN RIGHTS AWARD - U2014 UN WATCH
GENEVA, May 14 – Geneva-based human rights group UN Watch announced today that it will be awarding its prestigious annual human rights prize next week to Iranian dissident and best-selling author Marina Nemat, now living in Canada, who was jailed and tortured as a political prisoner in Tehran when she was only 16 years old.
HUMAN DIGNITY AWARD - EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT
Toronto author Marina Nemat awarded first "Human Dignity" prize by European Parliament; presentation in Milan, Italy, on December 15, 2007
TORONTO, Dec. 11 /CNW/ - Toronto-area author Marina Nemat will be
presented with the European Parliament's first "Human Dignity" prize on
December 15, 2007, in Milan Italy. The prize is to be given annually by the Vice-President of the European Parliament and the cultural association "Europa 2004."
Ms Nemat will travel to Milan for the presentation by Mario Mauro, the Vice-President of the European Parliament.
Ms Nemat, 42, received the award for her book Prisoner of Teheran that recounts her experiences in captivity in Iran's notorious Evin Prison. She had been arrested at age 16 when she complained to her teacher, appointed by the new Khomeini regime, that math lessons were being replaced by Islamic studies. Sentenced to death, she was rescued from the firing squad by an Iranian Revolutionary Guard who exacted a shocking price - a forced marriage to him and conversion to Islam. The guard was later assassinated by a rival faction. She was released after two years and later married her sweetheart, the boy from her church, Andre Nemat. They escaped to Canada in 1991.
Prisoner of Teheran was published in 2007 and has been acclaimed internationally with editions in more than 22 countries.
The Human Dignity prize "celebrates organizations and individuals working for a world free from intolerance and social injustice, a world where
fundamental human rights are respected."
Mario Mauro said in a news release that Ms Nemat was chosen "because of her strength of mind despite her life experiences."
"The way she talks about her fate passes on a message of hope to all mistreated people," the release says.
BRITISH COLUMBIA AWARD FOR CANADIAN NON-FICTION
VANCOUVER - The jury for Canada's largest literary non-fiction prize, the British Columbia Award for Canadian Non-Fiction, has just released its longlist for 2008. Ten titles are on the longlist for the $40,000 prize, representing a wide range of subject and originating from publishers across the country.
Long list for the Fourth annual British Columbia Award for Canadian Non-Fiction
Title: Some Family: The Mormons and How Humanity Keeps Track of Itself
Author: Donald Harman Akenson
Publisher: McGill-Queen's University Press
Title: The Lost Coast: Salmon, Memory, and the Death of Wild Culture
Author: Tim Bowling
Publisher: Nightwood Editions
Title: At the Sharp End: Canadians Fighting the Great War 1914 to 1916
Author: Tim Cook
Publisher: Viking Canada
Title: The Film Club: A True Story of a Father and Son
Author: David Gilmour
Publisher: Thomas Allen Publishers
Title: From Harvey River
Author: Lorna Goodison
Publisher: McClelland & Stewart
Title: Cold-Cocked: On Hockey
Author: Lorna Jackson
Title: The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism
Author: Naomi Klein
Publisher: Knopf Canada
Title: Prisoner of Tehran: A Memoir
Author: Marina Nemat
Publisher: Viking Canada
Title: Beaverbrook: A Shattered Legacy
Author: Jacques Poitras
Publisher: Goose Lane Editions
Title: Portrait in Light and Shadow: The Life of Yousuf Karsh
Author: Maria Tippett
Publisher: House of Anansi Press
Jury Chair David Mitchell notes: "The quality and diversity of the titles on this longlist are testimony to the enduring strength of Canadian non-fiction. As a result, the work of our jury has been and continues to be extremely challenging."
From the longlist, the jury will select a shortlist, to be announced in November 2007. The award presentation will take place in late-January 2008 in Vancouver.
The jury for the 2008 British Columbia Award for Canadian Non-Fiction comprises:
David Mitchell (jury chair), a well-known political commentator and historian whose career has spanned both the public and private sectors. Mr. Mitchell is currently Vice-Principal, Advancement at Queen's University. His published work includes the notable biography, W.A.C. Bennett and the Rise of British Columbia.
Patrick Lane, one of Canada's finest poets. Mr. Lane's award-winning works of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction have been published around the world. In 2005, Mr. Lane won the British Columbia Award for Canadian Non-Fiction for his memoir, There Is a Season.
Sandra Martin, a senior features writer for the Globe and Mail. Ms. Martin is a past winner of the Atkinson and Canadian Journalism Fellowships and gold and silver National Magazine Awards, as well as the author of the just-published book, The First Man: Daughters Write About Their Fathers. VANCOUVER - The jury for Canada's largest literary non-fiction prize, the British Columbia Award for Canadian Non-Fiction, has just released its longlist for 2008. Ten titles are on the longlist for the $40,000 prize, representing a wide range of subject and originating from publishers across the country.
PREMIO FONDAZIONE CARICAL GRINZNE CAVOUR
“Premio Fondazione Carical Grinzane Cavour”: Mimmo Calopresti, Elvira Dones, Lucrezia Lerro, Giuseppe Lupo, Marina Nemat, Gustavo Zagrebelsky vincitori della seconda edizione.
La seconda edizione del “Premio Fondazione Carical Grinzane Cavour per la Cultura Euromediterranea” decreta vincitori la scrittrice iraniana Marina Nemat, l’autrice albanese Elvira Dones, il giurista Gustavo Zagrebelsky, la poetessa Lucrezia Lerro, il saggista Giuseppe Lupo e il regista Mimmo Calopresti.
La Cerimonia di Premiazione si terrà a Cosenza presso il Teatro Rendano (Piazza Quindici Marzo, 1) martedì 14 ottobre 2008 alle ore 17,30.
Istituito dalla Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Calabria e Lucania e dal Premio Grinzane Cavour per riconoscere i meriti di quanti hanno contribuito all’approfondimento e alla conoscenza delle culture mediterranee, il Premio - suddiviso in quattro sezioni - vuole favorire il dialogo tra i popoli e la valorizzazione delle giovani risorse culturali calabresi e lucane.
- I premiati per la “Sezione Società Civile” sono Marina Nemat per Prigioniera di Teheran (Cairo Editore) e Elvira Dones per Vergine giurata (Feltrinelli);
- per la “Sezione Storia del Pensiero” il riconoscimento va a Gustavo Zagrebelsky per «Crucifige!» e la democrazia (Einaudi);
- per la “Sezione Narrativa” i vincitori sono Giuseppe Lupo per La carovana Zanardelli (Marsilio) e Lucrezia Lerro per La più bella del mondo (Bompiani).
- per la “Sezione Creatività” Mimmo Calopresti.
La Giuria del Premio è composta da studiosi e rappresentanti del mondo culturale italiano: Mario Bozzo (Presidente della Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Calabria e Lucania e Presidente Fondazione Carical), Arnaldo Colasanti (Italianista, critico letterario e scrittore), Sergio Givone (Ordinario di Estetica all’Università di Firenze), Raffaele Perrelli (Preside della Facoltà di Lettere e Filosofia dell’Università degli Studi di Calabria), Luigi Maria Lombardi Satriani (Ordinario di Etnologia all’Università La Sapienza di Roma), Giuliana Sgrena (Giornalista e scrittrice), Giuliano Soria (Presidente della Giuria del Premio e del Premio Grinzane Cavour) e Stefano Zecchi (Ordinario di Estetica presso l’Università degli Studi di Milano).
La Cerimonia di Premiazione sarà preceduta dall’incontro “Mediterraneo, pianeta donna” cui partecipano: Angelica Edna Calò Livné (Fondazione Beresheet La Shalom), Elvira Dones, Marina Nemat e Giuliana Sgrena. L’incontro sarà moderato da Franco Di Mare e si terrà presso il Teatro Rendano (Piazza Quindici Marzo, 1) martedì 14 ottobre alle ore 17,30.
PREMI GRINZANE CABOUR
Premi Grinzane Cavour
Mimmo Calopresti, Elvira Dones, Lucrezia Lerro, Giuseppe Lupo, Marina Nemat e Gustavo Zagrebelsky sono i vincitori della seconda edizione del Premio Fondazione Carical Grinzane Cavour per la cultura Euromediterranea. Il premio, suddiviso in quattro sezioni e istituito dalla Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Calabria e Lucania e dal Grinzane Cavour, si propone di riconoscere i meriti di quanti hanno contribuito all'approfondimento e alla conoscenza delle culture mediterranee, favorire il dialogo tra i popoli e valorizzare le giovani risorse culturali calabresi e lucane. I vincitori sono per la sezione Società Civile la scrittrice iraniana Marina Nemat per La Prigioniera di Teheran (Cairo Editore) e la scrittrice albanese Elvira Dones per La Vergine giurata (Feltrinelli); per la sezione Storia del Pensiero Gustavo Zagrebelsky con Crucifige e la democrazia (Einaudi), mentre per la sezione Narrativa Giuseppe Lupo con La carovana Zanardelli (Marsilio editore) e Lucrezia Lerro per La più bella del mondo (Bompiani). Infine per la sezione Creatività premiato il regista e attore cinematografico Mimmo Calopresti. La cerimonia di consegna dei premi si terrà a Cosenza il 14 ottobre.