Literature prizewinners descend on campus

This week, the nine winners of the Donald Windham-Sandy M. Campbell Literature prizes offered workshops, talks and classes on campus.
This week, the nine winners of the Donald Windham-Sandy M. Campbell Literature prizes offered workshops, talks and classes on campus. Photo by Ken Yanagisawa.

Literary talent overtook the campus on Tuesday as the inaugural festival celebrating the Donald Windham-Sandy M. Campbell Literature Prizes, which awarded $150,000 each to nine writers, commenced.

In March, the University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library gave the first-ever round of an annual set of prizes to a group of nine writers in three different areas of literature — in drama, Naomi Wallace, Tarell Alvin McCraney and Stephen Adly Guirgis; in nonfiction, Jonny Steinberg, Jeremy Scahill and Adina Hoffman; and in fiction, Zoë Wicomb, James Salter and Tom McCarthy. This week, the authors arrived on campus to offer workshops, give readings, teach master classes and speak at Master’s Teas.

On Tuesday, University President Peter Salovey led a ceremony in Sprague Hall honoring the authors, calling it “one of the most exciting moments so far” in his term as president of Yale College.

“Yale is a place that hopes to recognize, inspire and nurture excellence in every field,” he said. “It is our hope that these prizes will help [the writers] continue to pursue excellence in their writing, so that we may benefit from what they produce.”

Program Director Michael Kelleher said he hoped the festival would have an impact on Yale students and give them an opportunity to learn from the accomplished authors.

“We chose this time of year because [the festival] seemed like a great way to usher in the school year,” he said. “It gets them excited about things that are happening on campus and about literature.”

Kelleher said he thinks the award will positively affect the writers’ careers by giving them more resources and publicity.

The Windham-Campbell Prizes, which rank in the top five largest English-language literary prizes, are unique because they honor the writer rather than an individual work, he said.

At a Thursday Master’s Tea, Hoffman discussed her experience living in Jerusalem and ways that Israel features in her writing. She said she considered becoming a fiction writer, but ultimately settled on nonfiction because she found reality to be equally compelling subject matter.

“Much of what I’ve been told about writing and imagination was just not true,” Hoffman said. “I could write a literary work that’s also a documentary work.”

McCraney, one of the winners, said the festival was “beautiful” and that he was honored to share the award with renowned writers such as Wallace and Guirgis.

Paola Lázaro Muñoz, a Columbia graduate student and friend of award winner Guirgis, said prizes that are as generous as the Windham Prize are rare in the field of literature.

Andrew de Luna ’16, who attended the awards ceremony, said he was in “awe” of the writers and their significant accomplishments.

“It was very moving and surreal to see nine writers this big on the same stage,” he said.

The prizes were established when novelist Donald Windham left the bulk of his estate to Yale upon passing in 2010.

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