2017 Windham Campbell Festival boasts literary star power

A photo of the 2017 recipients of the Windham-Campbell Literature Prizes
The 2017 recipients of the Windham-Campbell Literature Prizes will come to campus Sept. 13 for a three-day literary festival: (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.

Writer Ashleigh Young, a 2017 winner of the Windham Campbell Literature Prize, will gather with her fellow prize recipients at Yale on Wednesday, Sept. 13, for a three-day festival celebrating the craft of writing.    

Young said she is excited about the chance to engage with the Yale community.

Apart from the breathtaking fact of just being there and getting to meet all of the other writers, I have to be honest: I’m very eager to see the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library,” said Young, who lives in New Zealand and writes nonfiction. “It looks otherworldly. I'll be totally content just to wander and look.”

The eight prize recipients will be busy over the literary festival’s three days of readings, talks, and discussions — all free and open to the public. The festivities begin at Sprague Hall on Wednesday evening, when — after the recipients visit the Beinecke for a group photo — Yale President Peter Salovey will present the awards. Norwegian novelist Karl Ove Knausgård, whose cycle of autobiographical novels, “My Struggle,” became an international literary sensation, will deliver the keynote address on the theme, “Why I Write.”

The 2017 prize recipients, announced in March, are André Alexis (fiction), Erna Brodber (fiction), Marina Carr (drama), Ike Holter (drama), Ali Cobby Eckermann (poetry), Carolyn Forché (poetry), Maya Jasanoff, GRD ‘02 (nonfiction), and Young.

The festival schedule is available online. Several events combine the insight of the prizewinners with that of Yale faculty and accomplished alumni.

Photo of Karl Ove Knausgård.
Karl Ove Knausgård (photo by Sam Barker)

Poet Claudia Rankine, the Frederick Iseman Professor of Poetry at Yale, and Brodber, a Jamaican novelist, will discuss the annual Emancipation Day celebrations in Woodside, Saint Mary — a rural community in the hills of northeast Jamaica — on Friday, Sept. 15, at the Afro-American Cultural Center.

Tarrell Alvin McCraney, the Oscar winning screenwriter of “Moonlight” and the new chair of the Yale School of Drama’s Playwriting Department and playwright-in-residence at the Yale Repertory Theater, will host staged readings of scenes by prizewinners Carr and Holter on Thursday, Sept. 14, at the Yale University Art Gallery.  

McCraney, M.F.A. ’07, was a member of the inaugural class of Windham-Campbell Prize recipients in 2013, and this marks the first time that a former prizewinner is participating in the festival.

Novelist Min Jin Lee '90, whose latest work, “Pachinko,” is a national bestseller, will lead a discussion on Friday at the New Haven Free Public Library with Brodber, Cobby Eckermann, Jasanoff, and Young about the ways that writers discover their ancestors and bring them to life in their writing.

Also on Friday, Erroll McDonald '75, executive editor in the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, will moderate a discussion on “Art in the Age of Trump” with Alexis, Forché, Holter, and Jasanoff at the Whitney Humanities Center.

Alexis, a Canadian novelist, is looking forward to discussing the work of writing in today’s hyper-partisan environment.

I’m participating in the discussion, but it’s the opinions of the other panelists that I’m seriously interested in hearing,” Alexis said.

Aside from the festival events, Alexis said he is happy for the opportunity to visit campus.

For years, I went out with a Yale graduate, the writer Catherine Bush. We — she, me, and my daughter Nicola — attended her 20th reunion celebration,” he said. “I loved the campus, wanted to spend more time at the Beinecke, and see something at the theater. I recall seeing the actor Sam Waterston walking down the street.”

While an employee at a bookstore specializing in the theater, Alexis said he became an admirer of Theater magazine, Yale’s journal of all things theater related.  

Its pages are where I first read playwrights Athol Fugard and August Wilson, and where I first heard about Mabou Mines, Andre Serban, Christopher Durang, and so much more,” the novelist said. “I’m thrilled to be getting the Windham-Campbell Prize, but part of me is still the 20 year old who wishes he could be part of Theater.”

The festival closes at the art gallery on Friday with short readings by the prizewinners.

Between the readings and panel discussions, five of the prize recipients will visit New Haven’s Cooperative Arts & Humanities High School. On Thursday, the writers will participate in a panel discussion moderated by Co-op students, who spent the summer reading the prizewinners’ works. On Friday, the prize recipients will lead writing workshops with the high school students.

One of the festival’s greatest treats will be Knausgård’s keynote address, Young said.

I think he's completely magnificent, and I can't wait to hear him speak to us,” she said. “I would be happy to hear him talk about anything at all, but the fact that he's going to talk about why he writes seems magical.”

Knausgård’s lecture, written especially for the occasion, will be the basis for the next installment of the prize’s “Why Write” series, which is published by Yale University Press. “Devotion,” based on Patti Smith’s keynote lecture at last year’s festival, will be released Sept. 12. It is the initial book in the series.

To view the complete festival schedule, visit www.windhamcampbell.org/festival.

Launched in 2013, the Windham-Campbell Prizes are administered by the Beinecke Library, which houses the Donald Windham and Sandy M. Campbell Papers. The prizes, each worth $165,000, are awarded in four categories — fiction, nonfiction, drama, and poetry — to honor and support writers anywhere in the world writing in English. The prizes can recognize merit or promise.

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