President-elect Peter Salovey announced the nine winners of a new prestigious global literary prize on Monday morning at a gathering at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

The Donald Windham-Sandy M. Campbell Literature Prizes, valued at $150,000 each for a total of $1.35 million, are some of the largest literary prizes in history and will be awarded annually to nine established or emerging English-language authors or playwrights from around the world. The prizes are funded by the estate of the late novelist Donald Windham, who left the bulk of his assets to Yale in his will in 2010 for the express purpose of establishing these prizes.
The 2013 prize winners, chosen for excellence in fiction, nonfiction and drama, will receive their awards in a ceremony at Yale on Sept. 10 and will participate in a literary festival on campus that week.

“It was Windham’s explicit wish that we recognize emerging writers as part of this prize and support them in practicing their art and developing their art,” said Michael Kelleher, the program director for the Windham-Campbell Literature Prizes. He added that Windham wanted the prizes to be large enough to support writers for a year, allowing them to hone their craft without worrying about securing “outside support.”

The nine winners, ranging in age from 33 to 87, are either writers that nominators felt deserved more recognition for their existing work or that nominators felt exhibited career potential, Kelleher said. This year’s prizes went to Tom McCarthy, James Salter and Zoë Wicomb for fiction; Adina Hoffman, Jonny Steinberg and Jeremy Scahill for nonfiction; and Naomi Wallace, Stephen Adly Guirgis and Tarell Alvin McCraney for drama. The prize winners represent many different career stages and hail from a variety of places, including South Africa, Jerusalem and Kentucky.

The only requirements were that each nominee show “outstanding literary achievement” and have at least one published book or play, Kelleher said.

There were no applications, and nominees were not notified that they were under consideration for the prize, Kelleher said, so the winners were “utterly shocked” when they heard the news last week. Hoffman, a 2009 Franke Fellow at the Whitney Humanities Center, told the News she found out she had won last Thursday when Kelleher contacted her.

“I got a phone call from [Kelleher], who asked if I was sitting down, and I was,” she said. “I had absolutely no idea this was coming.”

Hoffman, a nonfiction writer who splits her time between Jerusalem and New Haven, is the author of several books and the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship. She said she still feels dumbfounded that she was chosen for a Windham-Campbell prize, and that she is especially honored that the prizes are given in connection with the Beinecke Library, which she said is the “holy of holies of archival research” — an activity strongly connected to her work.

Salovey told the News that the public recognition generated by these prizes will help further the winners’ careers and added that the financial support from the awards may make it possible for writers to pursue their next projects.

“It’s the kind of prize that can change lives, and that’s a source of great pride [for Yale],” he said.

Windham and his longtime partner and fellow writer Sandy Campbell had talked about establishing a prize to help writers before Campbell’s death in 1988, Kelleher said, and Windham chose to entrust Yale with the task of administering the prizes. Windham began donating his writings to the Beinecke Library in 1989, and his papers include extensive correspondences with literary icons such as Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams.

Kelleher said the estate managers knew the bequest would “make a splash” and wanted to make sure that the money was going to a renowned institution with the resources to administer a prize of its size. Kelleher added that Yale was interested in administering the prize because its prestige will reflect back on the University, and because the presence of the prize winners at the literary festival next fall will make the prize “part of campus life and student life.”

The Windham-Campbell prizes, along with other large literary prizes such as the Bollingen Prize and the Yale Series of Younger Poets, are administered by the University but are different from most Yale prizes because they are not restricted to undergraduate or graduate students or even to members of the Yale community.

Kelleher said the selection process began last summer, when a steering committee composed of Yale faculty and administrators selected a group of 29 nominators. A prize jury appointed by University President Richard Levin then selected five finalists for each category in December, and a selection committee met last week to choose the winners, Kelleher said.

The literary festival in September will run from Sept. 10–13.