New literary awards came out of nowhere -
by STAFF BLOGGER
[NOTE: Imagine if someday 'cli fi' novels find a specific literary awards program to be part of, too!]
Call them the ''Windy Camp'' literary awards as a nickname?
Imagine an American poet and memoirist who never went college but
befriended some of the great literary heroes of his generation and
then died at the age of 90 with no children as heirs of what was a
huge estate that was worth millions.
That would be Donald Windham, who died in 2010 -- some 20 years after
the death of his lifelong partner Sandy Campbell -- and asked his
lawyers to set up one of the richest literary awards program in the
world. Ensorcelled yet?
He chose Yale University to run the annual program and he left enough
money behind to fund the program for, well, for a long time to come.
But he never went to Yale, and never even went to college himself.
How's that for serendipity?
Think of the Windham Campell Prizes as a kind of MacArthur "genius"
grant for writers -- fiction writers, non-fiction writers and
playwrights -- who do not apply for the awards and get notified about
winning out of the blue as a complete surprise.
This year, the third year of the program (its that new, and that's
why you probably never heard of it before), the $150,000 prizes went
to nine writers from around the world. None of them applied, and none
of them knew the windfall was coming. Cool!
"The prizes were started by a very wealthy man who unexpectedly
donated his entire estate to Yale, which is not even his alma mater,"
a publishing industry source told this reporter in a recent email. "To
do something like this, well, it doesn't happen very often."
You can say that again. The Windham Campbell awards just might the
world's richest literary prizes doled out annually, unless of course
you factor in the Nobel Prize for Literature, which comes with a $1
Windham, who was gay and lived a storied literary life in New York
with friends like Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote, took a hefty
family inheritance, invested it wisely over the years and decided that
when he died, since he had no children to leave anything to, he would
fund a literary prize and give the reins to Yale to administer it.
Co-named after him and his gay partner Campbell, the literary prizes
are for all comers, regardless of nationality, gender, sexuality or
It was quite a nice thing for a minor American writer to do, and as
the annual program gathers steam, it's sure to become the talk of the
town in literary circles.
Since the program is just three years old, it's still a low-profile
thing and not the kind of event to make headlines on the front pages
of the New York Times or the Washington Post.
But it's future is assured. And publicity will follow, for sure.
Michael Kelleher, who is the program director
at Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Yale, oversees the annual event.
Officially, the prizes are known as the Donald Windham-Sandy M.
Campbell Literature Prizes at Yale.
This year's nine winners come from several nations -- among them
the United States, the United Kingdom, Nigeria, and
South Africa -- and were chosen ''confidentially'' in three
categories -- fiction,
non-fiction, and drama.
According to the administrators, the nine men and women were "honored
for their literary achievements as well as
their potential, [and] the winners will each receive $150,000 to support their
work." Not a bad payday for working writers.
The 2015 winners are: in fiction, Teju Cole, Helon Habila, and Ivan
Vladislavić; in non-fiction, Edmund de Waal, Geoff Dyer, and John Jeremiah
Sullivan; and in drama, Jackie Sibblies Drury, Helen Edmundson, and Debbie
The prizes were set up, according to Windhan's will, ''to call
attention to literary achievement and
provide writers with the opportunity to focus on their work independent of
And get this: there is no submission process, and winners are
determined by a global group of invited nominators, a jury in each
category, and a selection committee.
I want to apply.
Oh, wait a minute, I forgot: there is no application form or
submission process. This all just happens like magic, and every year
for the next 100 years it will happen again and again. Long live the
vision of Donald Windham, American dreamer..
And to think that Windham himself never went to Yale and had no
connection with the Ivy League college. Campbell went to Princeton. So
in a way, Yale finds itself the beneficiary of an amazing literary
“The Windham-Campbell Prizes were created by a writer to support other
writers,” Kelleher said in a recent press release. “Donald Windham
recognized that the most significant gift he could give to another writer
was time to write. In addition to the prestige it confers, the prize gives
them just that -- with no strings attached."
As you can imagine, the winners of the 2015 are happy beyond words,
and the 2016 prizes are already being talked about, although nobody
knows who will be chosen.
De Waal, a British artist and author, said the prize is a Godsend.
“I still cannot believe the news,” he said.
LAST YEAR'S LITERARY FESTIVAL CELEBRATING WINNERS AT YALE:
Literary festival honors 8 writers
The festival began late Monday afternoon with a keynote address by novelist Zadie Smith and a prize ceremony, which awarded $150,000 to each of the honored authors. Throughout the week, the prizewinners will engage in a variety of events, such as Master’s Teas, panels and conversations with faculty, all of which are free and open to the public.
At the prize ceremony, University President Peter Salovey spoke in front of a crowd of about 200 to thank the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library for serving as “custodian for the prizes” and Prize Program Director Michael Kelleher for overseeing the festival. Salovey then offered some general remarks about the prizewinners — a diverse group of writers selected by jurors from within Yale and outside the University — and praised their various works and dedication to their craft.
“Yale strives in all that we do to recognize and inspire and nurture excellence in every field,” Salovey said. “Each of you in your own ways embodies this ideal.”
Salovey proceeded to distribute the prizes to each recipient by genre: Pankaj Mishra and John Vaillant were honored for nonfiction; Nadeem Aslam, Jim Crace and Aminatta Forna for fiction; and Kia Corthron, Sam Holcroft and Noëlle Janaczewska for drama.
Kelleher said the planning of the festival began in earnest after the prizewinners were announced in March. He added that the festival’s events are chosen in accordance with the honored authors’ literary works and intellectual interests. As an example, he cited a Tuesday-night screening of “The Lost Libraries of Timbuktu,” a BBC documentary narrated by prizewinner Forna, a Scottish-born Sierra Leone writer who focuses on war and civil violence.
“In planning this festival, no matter who wins the prize, what kind of writing they do, or where they’re from, there is someone here who can talk about their work or what they’re interested in,” Kelleher said.
From Tuesday to Thursday, each of the prizewinners will engage in conversations with Yale faculty members about their writings and will also participate in Master’s Teas hosted by residential colleges. In addition, the playwrights amongst the prizewinners will give public master classes, which will include staged readings of their works and discussion.
The “highlight” of Tuesday night, according to Kelleher, is “Literary Speed Dating,” an event organized at Beinecke Library by Yale undergraduates during which attendees will be sorted into groups to have 10-minute conversations with each prizewinner as they move from table to table.
On Thursday, the Beinecke will showcase pictures of Haida Gwaii with prizewinner Vaillant, whose novel, “The Golden Spruce,” featured the setting of the British Columbia archipelago. Playwright and prizewinner Corthron will also discuss her work with Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway GRD ’95 through the Endeavors Series.
Each of the prizewinners will read from their work during the festival’s closing ceremony on Thursday. “Last year’s event was one of the best readings I’ve ever seen,” Kelleher said.
For the first time, the festival will host an event in New York City on Friday evening, featuring Forna, Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Lorraine Adams and Caine Prize for African Writing winner E. C. Osondu in conversation.
Students present at the Monday’s prize ceremony had largely positive responses to the event.
“What interested me as I was reading the program was the [opportunity to live] as a writer without any distractions, and the amount of prize money is pretty amazing,” Leigh Vila ’17 said. “Being a writer myself, I always try to find time to write and it’s so difficult, so it’s pretty cool and amazing this even exists,” she said.
Caroline Sydney ’16, a staff columnist for the News, said she was interested that time was used as a theme throughout the prize ceremony. She said while University administrators said the purpose of the prizes is to give these writers time to dedicate to their craft, the prizes also give Yale students the opportunity to spend time with these authors.
The Windham-Campbell prizes totaled $1.35 million to nine writers last year.