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NPR Foreign Correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson. Photo ©NPR by Steve Barrett

The woman who opened NPR’s Kabul bureau in Afghanistan five years ago, who covered the Arab Spring from Cairo, and who recently reported from Benghazi, in eastern Libya, as rebel forces surged into Tripoli and toppled Muammar Qaddafi, will receive Colby College’s 2011 Lovejoy Award for courageous journalism.

NPR Foreign Correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson will accept the Lovejoy award and an honorary Colby doctorate at a formal convocation on Sunday, Oct. 16, at 5:30 p.m. in Colby’s Lorimer Chapel. The event, which includes a speech by Nelson, is open to the public.

The Lovejoy Award has been given annually since 1952 to recognize courage in journalism. It honors the memory of Elijah Parish Lovejoy, Colby’s valedictorian in 1826 and an abolitionist publisher who was killed in Alton, Ill., in 1837 for condemning slavery. He is considered America’s first martyr to freedom of the press.

“Our committee’s decision this year to expand the pool of eligible journalists beyond newspaper journalists opened the prize to an enormous range of candidates.” said Ann Marie Lipinski, curator of the Nieman Foundation at Harvard and chair of Colby’s Lovejoy Award selection committee. “But Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson quickly became the consensus choice. Nelson’s work is of extraordinary quality by any standard, and she has accomplished so much so well working in societies where being a woman carries additional challenges. She is an inspiration.”

Nelson is now based in Cairo and covers the Arab world for NPR’s award-winning news programs including Morning Edition and All Things Considered. For more than three years in Afghanistan for NPR, she gave listeners details about life in that country during wartime in stories that ranged from influences from Iran, Pakistan, and the United States on Afghan affairs to an increasing number of suicides among women in a tribal society where they are seen as second-class citizens.

NPR hired Nelson in 2006 after she spent more than two decades as a newspaper reporter. She was Knight Ridder’s Middle East bureau chief, with a special focus on Iran, from 2002 to 2005. Following the 9/11 attacks the Los Angeles Times sent her on assignment to Iran and Afghanistan. She spent three years as an editor and reporter for Newsday and was part of the team that won the 1997 Pulitzer Prize for covering the crash of TWA flight 800. A graduate of the University of Maryland, Nelson speaks Farsi, Dari, and German, as well as English.

Associated events Oct. 16 include a panel discussion, Reflections on the Arab Spring, at 4 p.m. in Ostrove Auditorium, Diamond Building. Panelists are John Turner, assistant professor of history at Colby and an expert on the history of Islam; J. Jason Thompson, visiting associate professor of history at Bates; and Shelley Deane, assistant professor of government at Bowdoin. Nelson will spend several days on campus meeting with students and community members.

Nelson was chosen to receive the Lovejoy Award by a committee that includes Lipinski; Rebecca Corbett, deputy Washington bureau chief for the New York Times; Gregory Moore, editor of the Denver Post; Mike Pride, editor emeritus and columnist for the Concord [N.H.] Monitor; David Shribman, vice president and executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette; Stephen Engelberg, managing editor of Pro Publica; and Professor L. Sandy Maisel, director of the Goldfarb Center for Public Affairs and Civic Engagement at Colby.

Previous winners of the award include Alfredo Corchado (2010), who reports from the U.S.-Mexico border for the Dallas Morning News; Anne Hull of the Washington Post (2008), who exposed the healthcare scandal at Walter Reed Army Medical Center; Jerry Mitchell (2006), whose reporting brought Ku Klux Klansmen to justice for civil rights murders; Daniel Pearl (2002, posthumous) of the Wall Street Journal; and Katherine Graham (1973), publisher of the Washington Post during Watergate.