At Yale’s seventh annual Windham-Campbell Literary Festival last week, the University held a series of discussions and readings featuring the eight recipients of this year’s Donald Windham-Sandy M. Campbell Literature Prizes.
Annually administered by the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Windham-Campbell prizes honor eight writers across four categories: poetry, ﬁction, drama and nonﬁction. The winners — who are selected in March based on nominations — receive a grant of $165,000.
“The purpose of this prize from the very beginning has been to give writers time to write,” program director of the Windham-Campbell prizes Michael Kelleher told the News. “The hope is that they’re able to produce work that’s really engaged with its artistic concerns, rather than all of these other worldly concerns that tend to dominate the publishing world.”
Winners are required to accept the prize in person and participate in a number of campus events during the festival. Writers are free to explore the “wide range of incredible resources” that Yale’s galleries and libraries offer, Kelleher said.
In the Beinecke Library poet Kwame Dawes discussed his collaboration with the late artist Tom Feelings. Danielle McLaughlin, a prizewinner in the fiction category, held a discussion about a Yale University Art Gallery display with Keely Orgeman, an associate curator in the Department of American Paintings and Sculpture.
Every year, a planning committee of undergraduates publicize the festival, set up events and escort the writers. Chie Xu ’21, who is a member of this year’s student planning committee, said that working on the festival allowed her to “get to know [the writers] better in a more casual setting.”
The festival began with poet Eileen Myles’ opening lecture and an awards ceremony hosted by University President Peter Salovey. Xu told the News it was amazing to have a “literary icon” like Myles on campus.
According to Kelleher, the festival attracts attendees from the New Haven community and the rest of the country every year. A number of the festival’s events were held in the New Haven Free Public Library.
The festival concluded with a reading at the YUAG, where each writer read a selection from their work. Playwright Young Jean Lee performed the opening monologue from her play “We’re Gonna Die.” Nonfiction writer Raghu Karnad read from his book “Farthest Field: An Indian Story of the Second World War.”
“The fact that we’re constantly shifting from poetry to drama to fiction to nonfiction, you’re getting these really interesting juxtapositions of different kinds of work,” said Kelleher, “and you start to see the different ways the works of the writers speak to each other.”
Xu said she appreciated the chance to hear the writers’ works in their own voices and added that hearing Danielle McLaughlin read from her short story collection “Dinosaurs on Other Planets” gave her new insights on the meaning of the text.
In an interview with the News, Kelleher highlighted the diversity of works written by Windham-Campbell prizewinners and said that the festival’s events facilitate students’ literary education beyond the traditional canon.
“For a lot of students on campus, this is the first time they’re encountering writers in person,” said Kelleher. “What they see [in the festival] is so different from what they encounter in their books, that it opens up the world of literature in ways that I think are going to change things in this nice, slow, incremental fashion over time.”
The first Windham-Campbell Literary Festival was held in September 2013.
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