Women’s voices dominate the 2020 Windham-Campbell Prizes

This year’s prize recipients are Yiyun Lee, Namwali Serpell, Maria Tumarkin, Anne Boyer, Bhanu Kapil, Jonah Mixon-Webster, Julia Cho, and Aleshea Harris.
2020 Windham-Campbell Prize winners

Top row, left to right: Anne Boyer (nonfiction), Julia Cho (drama), Aleshea Harris (drama), and Bhanu Kapil (poetry). Bottom row: Jonah Mixon-Webster (poetry), Yiyun Li (fiction), Namwali Serpell (fiction), and Maria Tumarkin (nonfiction).

Yale University today announced a female-dominated slate of recipients for the 2020 Windham-Campbell Prizes. The eight writers, including seven women, were honored for their literary achievement or promise and will receive $165,000 each to support their work.

This year’s prize recipients are: in fiction, Yiyun Lee (United States/China) and Namwali Serpell (Zambia); in nonfiction, Maria Tumarkin (Australia) and Anne Boyer (United States); in poetry, Bhanu Kapil (United Kingdom/India) and Jonah Mixon-Webster (United States); and in drama, Julia Cho (United States) and Aleshea Harris (United States).

The recipients were announced online from London on March 19 by writer and playwright Damien Barr and Michael Kelleher, director of the Windham-Campbell Prizes.

Together, the recipients form a rich collection of writers whose work explores pressing political and social themes across identity, culture, and power, Kelleher said.

This is such an exciting group of prize recipients — so many utterly original voices from so many different places,” Kelleher said. “Their work digs deeply into everything from the poisoned water crisis in present-day Flint, Michigan to the vicissitudes of the surveillance state in an Afro-futurist Zambia. To read the work of these eight writers — seven of them women — is simply overwhelming.”

The prizes are among the world’s richest literary awards, with $1.32 million given every year to eight authors writing in English. They honor writers at every stage of their careers.

The awards will be conferred in September during an annual international literary festival at Yale celebrating the honored writers and introducing them to new audiences.

The prize program is the brainchild of lifelong partners Donald Windham and Sandy M. Campbell, who were deeply involved in literary circles, collected books avidly, and read voraciously. They penned various works, such as novels, plays, and short stories. For years, the couple had discussed creating an award to highlight literary achievement and provide writers with the opportunity to focus on their work independent of financial concerns. When Campbell died unexpectedly in 1988, Windham took on the responsibility for making this shared dream a reality. The first prizes were announced in 2013.

Prize recipients are nominated confidentially and judged anonymously. They don’t know they are being considered for the prize until they receive a phone call from Kelleher.

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

Since the prize’s inception, 67 writers representing 17 countries in Africa, Asia, Oceania, Europe, and North America have won the prize.

Biographies of the recipients, prize citations, and background on the prizes are available at the Windham-Campbell Prizes website.

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Bess Connolly : elizabeth.connolly@yale.edu,