On March 13, Yale and the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library administration announced the eight winners of its Donald Windham-Sandy M. Campbell Literature Prizes. The recipients of the prize will receive an unrestricted grant of $165,000 to support their writing.
The award, more commonly known as the Windham-Campbell Prize, offers awards in four categories: fiction, nonfiction, poetry and drama. The award aims to provide both recognition and financial support for writers, “inspired by Windham’s early monetary struggles and the important role financial independence played in his career as a writer,” according to its website.
“Diversity is the foundation of the entire process. We make sure that the final list has been selected and vetted by a diverse group of nominators and judges, and that the final committee is itself diverse,” said the prize’s director Michael Kelleher. “Therefore, we don’t need to focus on anything but the quality of the writing when discussing the candidates.”
The prizes are open to all English-language writers from around the world at any stage of their career, so long as they have one published book or one professionally produced play to their credit. Each year, 60 nominators — who generally include theater producers, other writers and literary critics — are selected for their experience in the literary field. Each nominator can recommend up to two writers for the award. The nominees are then assessed by three jurors per category, who examine the authors’ works separately.
This year, the jurors narrowed down the list from 120 nominees to 16 finalists. The selection committee gave the prize to eight of them. The awardees came from all over the world, including from India, Jamaica and Ghana.
“It’s hard to say one way or another how ‘I feel about’ this magnificent honor. The constant word is gratitude. Gratitude put on a certain scale more than myself,” said Ishion Hutchinson, a poet from Jamaica who received the award this year. “The prize is judged rigorously by a committee of one’s peers, who are reading for excellence of quality and so it is deeply touching to be selected.”
Hutchinson is the author of two poetry collections called “House of Lords and Commons” and “Far District.” He said he was “indebted” to the encouragement he has received earlier in his career and added that the award also feels very “personal.”
Kwame Dawes, a poet born in Ghana and raised in Jamaica, told the News that receiving the award was “a surprise.” He said he found it “gratifying” that the people involved in the selection process found enough value in his work and career to award him the prize. He added that the prize is “special” to him because of its “international reach.”
“This family that [bequeaths] this kind of money out of a belief in the importance of the literary arts to the world has done something important and generous,” Dawes said. “I am fully aware that there are many, many writers who are worthy of this attention, which does not diminish the sense of gratitude engendered on me by this award.”
The awardees will attend the Windham-Campbell literary festival, which will be held on campus Sept. 18–20.
Ayumi Sudo | firstname.lastname@example.org