Yale awards eight writers $165,000 Windham-Campbell Prizes

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The 2017 recipients of the Windham-Campbell Prizes are (top row, left to right) Marina Carr, André Alexis, Ashleigh Young, Ali Cobby Eckermann, (bottom row) Ike Holter, Erna Brodber, Maya Jasanoff, and Carolyn Forché.

Yale University today announced the 2017 recipients of the Windham-Campbell Prizes. The eight recipients, honored for their literary achievement or promise, will receive a $165,000 individual prize to support their writing.

The 2017 recipients of the Windham-Campbell Prizes are: in fiction, André Alexis (Canada/Trinidad and Tobago) and Erna Brodber (Jamaica); in nonfiction, Maya Jasanoff (United States) and Ashleigh Young (New Zealand); in poetry, Ali Cobby Eckermann (Yankunytjatjara Aboriginal/Australia) and Carolyn Forché (United States); and in drama, Marina Carr (Ireland) and Ike Holter (United States). This is the first year that prizes have been awarded in poetry.

“I’ve always thought of myself as a small writer: someone who could only ever write in the margins,” said Young. “But this marvelous and truly mind-boggling honor means that suddenly a dreamlike opportunity has opened up in front of me — to bring writing into the heart of my life, and to have faith that it’s the right thing.”

The awards, among the world’s richest literary prizes, will be conferred in September at an international literary festival at Yale celebrating the honored writers and introducing them to new audiences.

The Windham-Campbell Prizes were established in 2013 by novelist and memoirist Donald Windham in memory of his partner of 40 years, Sandy M. Campbell, to call attention to literary achievement and provide writers working in English with the opportunity to focus on their work independent of financial concerns. 

“I work constantly and it’s exhausting; the idea that I’ve been given this gift to help me financially — and allow me to focus more artistically — is incredible and humbling, and even though I work with words I don’t know how to use them right now,” Holter said. “I’m incredibly grateful.”

Prize recipients are nominated confidentially and judged anonymously. The call that recipients receive from program director Michael Kelleher is the first time that they learn of their consideration.

“The telephone call and later the representation on paper of a miracle was so frighteningly surreal, I am still wondering if I have been trapped in a composition of mine,” said Brodber.

This is the fifth class of prize recipients. Since the prize’s inception, 43 writers representing 12 countries in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, and North America have received the prize. Past recipients include Oscar-winning playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney, essayist and novelist Teju Cole, novelist C. E. Morgan, and nonfiction writer Geoff Dyer. 

The Windham-Campbell Festival will take place at Yale on Sept. 13-15. Karl Ove Knausgård, author of “My Struggle,” a widely acclaimed series of six autobiographical novels, will deliver the keynote on the theme “Why I Write.” All festival events, including the keynote, are free and open to the public.

The Windham-Campbell Prizes are administered by Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, which houses the Donald Windham and Sandy M. Campbell papers.

Biographies of the 2017 recipients and background on the prizes are available at www.windhamcampbell.org.

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Lauren Cerand: correspondence@laurencerand.com, 917-533-0103

Mike Cummings: michael.cummings@yale.edu, 203-432-9548