Yale awards $1.35 million to nine writers

The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale announced the inaugural winners of the Windham Campbell Prizes, a new global writer’s award created with a gift from the late Donald Windham and his partner, Sandy M. Campbell, and now one of the largest literary prizes in the world. Nine $150,000 prizes were awarded for outstanding achievement in fiction, nonfiction, and drama.

The recipients, who range in age from 33 to 87, are James Salter, Zoë Wicomb, and Tom McCarthy in fiction; Naomi Wallace, Stephen Adly Guirgis, and Tarell Alvin McCraney in drama; and Jonny Steinberg, Adina Hoffman and Jeremy Scahill in nonfiction.

“We hope to make this a truly global writer’s prize,” said Michael Kelleher, the prize program director. “Fifty-nine writers from around the globe were nominated, including from India, Pakistan, Jamaica, New Zealand, Australia, Trinidad & Tobago, South Africa, the United States, and the U.K.”

A prize jury in each category chose five finalists, from which the nine recipients were selected to receive awards. Prizewinners did not know they were nominated, and many expressed shock as well as gratitude on receiving the news.

“To say that I’m excited by this news is a pointless understatement,” said Adina Hoffman, author of “My Happiness Bears No Relation To Happiness,” a cultural biography of the late Palestinian poet Taha Muhammad Ali. “As a writer for whom archival sleuthing is part and parcel of the imaginative process, I’m especially thrilled to receive a prize administered by the Beinecke. The fact that the shared lives of Donald Windham and Sandy Campbell were grounded in a total devotion to literature and art, and the friendships that evolved around them makes this incredibly generous prize all the more meaningful.”

It was Windham’s wish that the prizes recognize writers at all stages of their careers, including younger writers and writers with bodies of work that deserve a wider audience. Zoë Wicomb, who is the author of the groundbreaking Apartheid-era story collection, “You Can’t Get Lost in Cape Town,” and is published primarily by small presses, is an example of the latter.

 “For a minor writer like myself,” said Wicomb, “this is a validation I would never have dreamt of. I am overwhelmed — and deeply grateful for this generous prize. It will keep me for several years, and it will speed up the writing too since I can now afford to go away when the first draft proves difficult to produce in my own house,” she said.

All nine writers will accept the prize in person at a ceremony on Sept. 10. The ceremony will be followed by a literary festival celebrating the work of the prize recipients with a series of events in New Haven.

“Those we recognize this year are artists of the first order, and it is truly exciting to provide these authors with the means to develop their work in ways that will benefit all of us who love to read. We are all indebted to Donald Windham and Sandy Campbell for having created this legacy,” said President-elect Peter Salovey, who announced the winners.

To learn more about the prize, visit the Windham Campell Prize website.

The winning writers’ prize citations, biographies, and statements upon winning the prize follow:


Stephen Adly Guirgis

Prize citation

 “Stephen Adly Guirgis writes dramatic dialogue with passion and humor, creating characters who live on the edge, and whose linguistic bravado reinvigorates the American vernacular.”

Biography

Guirgis is a co-artistic director and longtime member of New York’s Labyrinth Theater Company. His plays have been performed on five continents and throughout the United States. They include: “The Motherf**ker with the Hat,” “Jesus Hopped the A Train,” “Our Lady of 121st Street,” “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot,” “In Arabia We’d All Be Kings,” “The Little Flower of East Orange,” “Dominica the Fat Ugly Ho,” and “Den of Thieves.” A former violence prevention specialist/H.I.V. educator, he has facilitated numerous workshops in NYC area prisons, schools, shelters, and hospitals. 

Statement by Guirgis

“I am truly humbled, inspired, and immensely grateful to receive this extremely generous affirmation and sustenance from Windham/Campbell and Yale University. I consider this prize to be like a contract: You have chosen to show an incredible amount of faith in me, and I, in turn, hope to reward that faith by using the resources and support given me to create new work for our theater and to be there for our young artists — to aid their process in any way I can. Thank you so much.”

 

Adina Hoffman

Prize Citation

 “In a land where even the most cautious nonfiction can draw howls of protest, Adina Hoffman combines fastidious listening, even-handed research, and prose so engaged that it makes the long-vanished visible again.”

Biography

Hoffman is the author of “House of Windows: Portraits from a Jerusalem Neighborhood” and “My Happiness Bears No Relation to Happiness: A Poet’s Life in the Palestinian Century.”  She is also the author, with Peter Cole, of “Sacred Trash: The Lost and Found World of the Cairo Geniza,” which was awarded the American Library Association’s Brody Medal for the best Jewish book of 2011. Her essays and criticism have appeared in The Nation, the Washington Post, the Times Literary Supplement, Raritan, Bookforum, and on the World Service of the BBC. Hoffman has been a visiting professor at Wesleyan, Middlebury, and NYU, as well as a Franke Fellow at Yale’s Whitney Humanities Center. The recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship, she divides her time between Jerusalem and New Haven. She is currently at work on “Where the Great City Stands: A Jerusalem Triptych,” forthcoming from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Statement by Hoffman

“To say that I’m excited by this news is a pointless understatement, but here I go: As a writer for whom archival sleuthing is part and parcel of the imaginative process, I’m especially thrilled to receive a prize administered by the Beinecke. The fact that the shared lives of Donald Windham and Sandy Campbell were grounded in a total devotion to literature and art and the friendships that evolved around them makes this incredibly generous prize all the more meaningful.”

 

Tom McCarthy 

Prize citation

 “Tom McCarthy constructs strange worlds where we find reflective echoes of our own and meditations on the meaning and making of art.”

Biography

McCarthy is a writer and artist whose work has been translated into more than 20 languages. His first novel, “Remainder,” which deals with questions of trauma and repetition, won the 2008 Believer Book Award and is currently being adapted for cinema. His second novel, “Men in Space,” set in a Central Europe rapidly disintegrating after the collapse of communism, was published in 2007 in the UK and 2012 in the U.S. His third, “C,” which explores the relationship between melancholia and technological media, was a 2010 Booker Prize finalist. McCarthy is also author of the 2006 nonfiction book “Tintin and the Secret of Literature,” an exploration of the themes and patterns of Hergé’s comic books; and of numerous essays that have appeared in publications such as The New York Times, The London Review of Books, Harper’s and Artforum. In addition, he is founder and general secretary of the International Necronautical Society (INS), a semi-fictitious avant-garde network of writers, philosophers, and artists whose work has been exhibited internationally at venues including the Palais de Tokyo Paris, Tate Britain, and Moderna Museet Stockholm.

Statement by McCarthy

“I'm very happy to receive the inaugural award, and I particularly look forward to visiting Yale.”

 

Tarell Alvin McCraney

Prize citation

“Tarell Alvin McCraney’s working class characters inhabit an extraordinary mythic universe, speaking a poetic language through which we grasp the spiritual stature of embattled people.”

Biography

McCraney is best known for his acclaimed trilogy, “The Brother/Sister Plays: The Brothers Size, In The Red and Brown Water, and ‘Marcus: Or The Secret Sweet.” They have been performed at McCarter Theater in Princeton, The Public Theater in New York, Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago, and at a trio of theaters in the Bay Area: Marin Theatre Company, ACT, and Magic Theatre, as well as the Young Vic in London (Olivier Award nomination) and around the world. Other plays include “The Breach” (Southern Rep, Seattle Rep), “Wig Out!” (Sundance Theatre Institute, Royal Court, and Vineyard Theatre. Winner of the GLAAD Award for Outstanding Play), and “American Trade” (Royal Shakespeare Company/Hampstead Theatre).  Steppenwolf Theatre Company, where he is an ensemble member, will produce the world premiere of his commissioned play, “Head of Passes” in April 2013.  His play “Choir Boy,” commissioned by Manhattan Theatre Club, will be produced there in June 2013. He is a graduate from the New World School of the Arts High School, the Theatre School at DePaul University in Chicago, and the Yale School of Drama. He is a resident playwright at New Dramatists and a member of Teo Castellanos/D-Projects in Miami.

Statement by McCraney

“It is an extraordinary blessing to be named an inaugural recipient of the Windham Campbell Prize at Yale. An added honor to do so alongside such incredible artists whom I admire greatly.” 

 

James Salter

Prize citation

 “Sentence by sentence, James Salter’s elegantly natural prose has a precision and clarity which make ordinary words swing wide open.”

Biography

Born in 1925, Salter grew up and attended schools in New York City. He entered West Point in 1942. He served in the Air Force as a fighter pilot and saw combat in the Korean War in 1952, flying against the Russians. This was the basis for a first novel, “The Hunters” (1956), which was later made into a film. In 1957 he resigned from the service and devoted himself to writing. The best known of his novels are “Light Years (1975),” “A Sport and a Pastime” (1967), and “Solo Faces” (1979). His collection of stories, “Dusk and Other Stories” (1989) won the PEN/Faulkner prize. His memoir is titled “Burning the Days” (1997) and his most recent book is a collection of stories, “Last Night” (2005). His stories have appeared in The New Yorker, Esquire, Paris Review, and six times in the O. Henry collection and Best American Stories.  His new novel, “All That Is,” will be published in April. He is married to the playwright, Kay Eldredge, and lives in Colorado and Bridgehampton, Long Island.

Statement by Salter

“The call came at seven in the morning. I took a hot bath and let the news sink in, but it really hasn’t. I feel immensely fortunate. The idea of giving this amount of money to a writer anywhere in the world who writes in English is simply visionary.”

 

Jeremy Scahill

Prize citation

 “Jeremy Scahill’s investigative reporting is in the best tradition of speaking truth to power, waging a political campaign by journalistic means, indefatigable in its detail and international in outlook.”

Biography

Scahill is National Security Correspondent for The Nation magazine and author of the international bestseller “Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army.” He has reported from Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, the former Yugoslavia and elsewhere across the globe. Scahill is a frequent guest on a wide array of programs, appearing regularly on The Rachel Maddow Show, Real Time with Bill Maher, and Democracy Now! He has also appeared on ABC World News, CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, CNN, The NewsHour, and Bill Moyers Journal. Scahill’s work has sparked several Congressional investigations and won some of journalism’s highest honors. He was twice awarded the prestigious George Polk Award, in 1998 for foreign reporting and in 2008 for “Blackwater.” Scahill is a producer and writer of the film “Dirty Wars,” which premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. His most recent book is “Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield” (2013).

Statement by Scahill

“Donald Windham's incredible life story should serve as an inspiration to aspiring writers and journalists for generations to come. He was living proof that heart, passion and determination can be far more valuable than any formal academic credentials. I have always believed that journalism is a trade, like plumbing or carpentry, and that some of the best journalists never stepped foot in a journalism class. I am deeply honored to be among the first recipients of the Windham Campbell Prize and am very grateful to the fiercely independent man who made it possible.”

 

Jonny Steinberg

Prize citation

 “Using a novelistic style that gives everyday people heroic complexity and scale, Jonny Steinberg allows us to encounter lives that enlarge our empathy and sharpen our understanding of the human condition.”

Biography

Steinberg is the author of several books about everyday life in the wake of South Africa’s transition to democracy. Two of them, “Midlands” (2002), about the murder of a white South African farmer, and “The Number” (2004), a biography of a prison gangster, won South Africa’s premier nonfiction award, the Sunday Times Alan Paton Prize. Steinberg’s books also include “Three-Letter Plague,” which chronicles a young man’s journey through South Africa’s AIDS pandemic. It was a Washington Post Book of the Year and was short-listed for the Wellcome Trust Book Award, among others. Steinberg is also the author of “Thin Blue” (2008), an exploration of the unwritten rules of engagement between South African civilians and police. “Little Liberia: An African Odyssey in New York,” about the Liberian civil war and its aftermath in an exile community in New York, was published in 2011. His latest book, about the journey of Somali boy across the length of the African continent, will be published in 2014. Steinberg has a doctorate in political theory from the University of Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar. He is currently a lecturer in African Studies at Oxford. He also has a column in Sunday Times in South Africa. A collection of his columns, “Notes From a Fractured Country,” was published in 2007.

Statement by Steinberg

“I feel honored but also enormously lucky; there is so much very good work out there. To honor the spirit of the prize I will endeavor to use it to embark on a writing project that would not have been possible otherwise.”

 

Naomi Wallace

Prize citation

 “Naomi Wallace mines historical situations in plays that are muscular, devastating, and unwavering.”

Biography

Wallace is a playwright from Kentucky. Her plays—which have been produced in the U.K. and elsewhere in Europe, the U.S. and the Middle East—include “In the Heart of America,” “Slaughter City,” “One Flea Spare,”  “The Trestle at Pope Lick Creek,” “Things of Dry Hours,” “The Fever Chart: Three Visions of the Middle East,” “And I and Silence,”  and “The Hard Weather Boating Party.” Her stage adaptation of William Wharton's novel “Birdy” was produced in London.  In 2009, one of her plays, “One Flea Spare,” was incorporated into the permanent repertoire of the French National Theater, a distinction she shares with only one other American playwright, Tennessee Williams. Her films include: “Lawn Dogs,” “The War Boys,” “Flying Blind” (co-written with Bruce-Mcleod). Among her awards and honors are the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize (twice), Joseph Kesselring Prize, Fellowship of Southern Writers Drama Award, an Obie Award (for “One Flea Spare”), and the 2012 Horton-Foote Award for most promising new American play. She is also a recipient of the MacArthur Fellowship and a National Endowment for the Arts development grant. She holds two master’s degrees from the University of Iowa and a bachelor’s degree from Hampshire College. 

Wallace statement

“That I feel honored to receive the inaugural Windham Campbell prize in drama is a gross understatement; I'm as happy as a delirious clam. This prize is enormously important at a time when the arts are increasingly embattled.”

 

Zoë Wicomb

Prize citation

“Zoë Wicomb’s subtle, lively language and beautifully crafted narratives explore the complex entanglements of home, and the continuing challenges of being in the world.”

Biography

Wicomb is a South African writer who lives in Glasgow, Scotland. She studied at the University of the Western Cape and at Strathclyde University where she is emeritus professor. Her critical work is on postcolonial theory and South African writing and culture. Her published works of fiction are “You Can’t Get Lost in Cape Town,” “David’s Story,” “Playing in the Light,” and “The One That Got Away.” She has just completed a new novel.

Statement by Wicomb

“Impossible. For a minor writer like myself, this is a validation I would never have dreamt of. I am overwhelmed — and deeply grateful for this generous prize. It will keep me for several years, and it will speed up the writing too since I can now afford to go away when the first draft proves difficult to produce in my own house.”