Photo of Michael R. Jackson (Courtesy of John Balk)

On March 20, the Windham-Campbell Prizes announced their 2021 prize recipients: Nathan Alan Davis, Michael R. Jackson, Dionne Brand, Renee Gladman, Kate Briggs, Vivian Gornick, Canisia Lubrin and Natalie Scenters-Zapico.

Administered annually by the Beinecke Rare Books and Manuscripts Library, the Windham-Campbell Prizes are prestigious literary awards recognizing English language writers. Each year, the prizes honor two winners in each of four categories: poetry, drama, fiction and nonfiction. Drama was awarded to Davis and Jackson, fiction to Brand and Gladman, nonfiction to Briggs and Gornick and poetry to Lubrin and Scenters-Zapico.

“I knew of the Windham-Campbell Prize because many writers I very much admire have won it in the past,” Scenters-Zapico said. “I never in a million years thought I’d be in their company.”

The Windham-Campbell Prizes were established in 2011 to honor American novelist Donald Windham and publisher Sandy M. Campbell. This year’s prize recipients were notified of their award in February via a video call. Winners receive a citation and an unrestricted grant of $165,000.

Scenters-Zapico won the award for her poetry collections “The Verging Cities,” which investigates how international politics affect the individual, and “Lima :: Limón,” which explores themes of gender and desire on the United States-Mexico border. Even though the Windham-Campbell Prizes are awarded for writings primarily in the English language, several of Scenters-Zapico’s poems feature words and phrases in Spanish.

“I don’t consider myself an English-language or Spanish-language writer,” Scenters-Zapico said. “Rather, [I am] a writer who exists between the two and hopes to show the literary merits of existing between languages.”

Scenters-Zapico said that she plans to donate part of the award to organizations that help undocumented immigrants in detention centers. 

This year also marks the first time a Windham-Campbell Prize has been awarded to a musical theater writer. Jackson, who is a playwright, composer and lyricist, received a prize for his musicals “White Girl in Danger” and “A Strange Loop.” “A Strange Loop” was featured off-Broadway and won several drama awards.

“Michael is a special writer — the judges wanted to reward him for that,” said Michael Kelleher, director of the Windham-Campbell Prizes.

Typically, the Windham-Campbell Prize recipients are invited to Yale’s campus for a festival a few months after receiving the prize. In 2020, the pandemic made it impossible for an in-person festival to take place. Instead, a special issue of the Yale Review featured new content by the prize recipients such as essays and transcribed conversations.

According to Kelleher, the Yale Review will once again print a special issue featuring the eight prizewinners. This year, there will also be virtual events featuring each writer. Kelleher said these events will be “wide-ranged in form and content” and “tailored to fit the interests and talents of the individuals involved.” The prizewinners will be recognized in a virtual festival this fall.

The first Windham-Campbell Prizes were awarded in 2013.

Marisol Carty | marisol.carty@yale.edu

MARISOL CARTY
Marisol Carty covers Music. She is a sophomore double majoring in Economics and Philosophy.