On Tuesday morning, University President Peter Salovey honored nine writers from four different countries with the announcement of the 2015 Donald Windham-Sandy M. Campbell Literature Prize.
The prize — established by the late American writer Donald Windham and funded by his estate — was announced at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Now in its third year, the prize seeks to recognize both English-language writers who are well established and new, promising talents. The prize selects three winners in each of three categories: fiction, non-fiction and drama. Each prizewinner will receive $150,000. The only stipulation is that the prizewinners must be present on campus Sept. 28 to receive the award and attend a literary festival spanning that week.
“What we continually set out to do is find writers from all over the world who are first and foremost excellent writers that we want to recognize, but also people whose careers who we think the prize will have an impact on,” said Michael Kelleher, program director for the Windham-Campbell Literature Prizes. “For some people it’s a year’s worth of free time, for some it’s five.”
This year’s fiction winners are Teju Cole, Helon Habila and Ivan Vladislavić, the nonfiction winners are Edmund de Waal, Geoff Dyer and John Jeremiah Sullivan, and the drama recipients are Jackie Sibblies Drury ’03, Helen Edmundson and Debbie Tucker Green. Selected from 61 nominations across 12 countries, the winners hail from the United States, the United Kingdom, Nigeria and South Africa.
Salovey said the award announcement was one of his favorite days of the year and thanked the prizewinners for their contributions.
Kelleher said the yearlong selection process begins in the spring, when he solicits nominations from a wide range of literary experts, from librarians to book critics. He added that in an effort to represent a geographically diverse set of writers, he encourages nominators to focus on specific regions each year, so that prizewinners can stand out both in their own local context and on a global scale.
Over the summer, several juries evaluate the work of all the nominees before writing statements of support for five finalists in each category. A third selection committee then decides the prizewinners, Kelleher said.
At no point in the selection process are potential recipients notified of their status. Kelleher noted that instead of notifying prizewinners himself, as he had done in the past two years, this year he and the selection committee made phone calls to recipients together. He said that this year, at least half the prizewinners were aware of the Windham-Campbell Literature Prize’s existence.
Vladislavić, a South African short story writer and novelist, said that the prize was a great honor for him.
“I am grateful for the faith that the selection committee has shown in my work, and I’ll put this remarkably generous prize to good use,” he said in an email to the News. “I know the writing of some of the other prizewinners and I’m delighted to be in such good company.”
Kia Corthron, a 2014 drama prizewinner, who knew about the prize when she received a call from Kelleher last year, said the award allowed her to stay in New York and focus on her writing.
Corthron added that one notable aspect of the prize is that it awards writers on a global scale.
“[The prize is] also wonderful in that it’s an international prize,” Corthron said. “You meet people around world, and [it’s also] confirmation that you’re doing pretty well.”