Yale Establishes Literature Prizes to Implement Extraordinary Legacy of Novelist and Memoirist Donald Windham
Yale University President Richard C. Levin today announced the establishment of The Donald Windham - Sandy M. Campbell Literature Prizes. The prizes, which will be administered by Yale, are funded by a significant bequest from noted American writer Donald Windham, who died on May 31, 2010 at the age of 89. In his will, Windham also donated the remainder of his literary estate to Yale, completing a collection that was initiated with his original gift to Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library in 1989.
The prize program will award seven to nine $150,000 prizes annually, in fiction and non-fiction categories. In addition to the prestige the prizes will bestow on recipients, Windham wished to ensure that the prizes would be substantial enough to enable each recipient to spend a full year writing, unencumbered by financial concerns.
In making the announcement, Levin said, “It is our hope and expectation that the prizes, together with the collection of the author’s papers that are already a treasured part of Yale’s Beinecke Library holdings, will draw deserved attention to Donald Windham’s literary accomplishments and preserve them for years to come.”
Born in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1920, Windham spent most of his adult life in New York and his fiction works and memoirs are noted for their portraits of mid-20th century literary and artistic life in the city. He counted among his close friends Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote and other such noted figures as Lincoln Kirstein, a founder of the New York City ballet, photographer George Platt Lynes, writer E.M. Forster, and the artists Joseph Cornell and Paul Cadmus. With the young Tennessee Williams he collaborated in writing the play “You Touched Me,” based on a D.H. Lawrence short story, which opened on Broadway in 1945.
Windham’s first novel, “The Dog Star,” published in 1950, was considered by Thomas Mann the finest American novel of 1950. E.M. Forster was so impressed with his work that he asked to write the introduction to Windham’s short-story collection, “The Warm Country,” which was published in 1962.
Windham is perhaps best known for his memoirs, which include “Emblems of Conduct” (1964), about his early life in Atlanta, “Tennessee Williams’ Letters to Donald Windham, 1940-1965” (1977), the publication of which caused a rift between the two men, and “Lost Friendships” (1987) an account of his friendships with Capote and Williams.
The Donald Windham - Sandy M. Campbell Literature Prizes at Yale honor both Windham and his longtime partner, a Princeton undergraduate whom he met in 1943 and who published the first editions of many of his books through his press, the Stamperia Valdonega in Verona, Italy.
The Windham - Campbell Prizes were established with the guidance of Jeffrey Peabody and Eugene Kokot, co-executors of the Windham estate. The prizes will be awarded annually and will recognize both established and promising English language writers in fiction, non-fiction, and drama. Poetry may be added as a fourth category at a later time. Not having had any academic affiliation himself, Windham stated a particular interest in ensuring that writers who are academically unaffiliated are included for consideration.
According to his friend and co-executor of his estate, Eugene Kokot, “Donald’s decision to establish the prizes at Yale and to donate the remainder of his estate to the University was in large part due to his trust in and warm relationship with the institution that had been such good stewards of his literary collection for so many years.”
The Donald Windham - Sandy Campbell Collection is part of the Yale Collection of American Literature at the Beinecke Library. It is a rich and diverse trove of correspondence between Windham and Campbell and Williams, Forster, Capote, and Isherwood, as well as other notable writers such as Carson McCullers, Marianne Moore, Graham Greene, Isak Dinesen and Paul Bowles. Also in the collection are photographs by George Platt Lynes and Carl Van Vechten. The bequest adds additional writings, correspondence with literary luminaries, photographs, and artwork, including the gift of a Paul Cadmus painting to the Yale University Art Gallery. In addition to donating a significant collection of his literary papers, Donald Windham’s early gifts to Yale established an endowment for curatorial support of the collection. His bequest also included an additional contribution to the curatorial endowment, ensuring permanent support for the collection at the Beinecke Library.