Keynote speaker Joy Harjo (Courtesy of John Balk).

On Wednesday, Sept. 15, a virtual take on the Windham-Campbell’s Prizes’ annual festival will begin with a presentation by prizewinner Michael R. Jackson.

The Windham-Campbell Prizes are prestigious literary awards administered annually by the Beinecke Rare Books & Manuscripts Library to English-language writers. This year’s prize recipients were announced last March, but the festival will take place virtually from Sept. 15 to Nov. 10. During the festival, writers talk about their works in greater detail through a series of pre-recorded presentations and question-and-answer sessions. The sessions will be streamed at 12 p.m. each Wednesday during the two-month period.

“You could call it a combination of simu-live, live and on-demand events,” said Michael Kelleher, program director of the Windham-Campbell Prizes.

Jackson, who is a playwright, composer and lyricist, will kick off this year’s series with a 30-minute presentation in which he sings original songs, performs a dramatic reading and describes his artistic influences. Jackson is the first musical theater writer to receive a Windham-Campbell Prize, and his presentation will reflect his multi-artistic background.

The festival’s presentations vary in style and format, driven by writers’ artistic styles and interests. Playwright Nathan Alan Davis will read a monologue that was cut from his play called “Nat Turner in Jerusalem,” translator Kate Briggs will convene a panel of translators and poet Natalie Scenters-Zapico will discuss borders while painting postcards.

“I’m most excited to share the importance of the domestic sphere to my writing with viewers,” Scenters-Zapico said. “With the pandemic we have all been confined in the domestic and experienced both the power of such a space and the oppression of such a space.”

Kelleher explained the virtual format is not meant to replicate an in-person experience onscreen, but create an event that can only be produced on camera. The festival’s live offerings, which will be accessible online starting Wednesday, are complemented with on-demand video content featuring the writers.

For example, in an on-demand video titled “Peer-to-Peer,” writers ask each other questions such as “what are your top three songs not in a musical?” and “what is your favorite line from a piece of poetry or prose?” In other videos, curators at Yale collections — including the Yale Center for British Art, Yale University Art Gallery, Irving S. Gilmore Music Library and Beinecke — select miniature objects to inspire writers to share personal experiences with art.

“[The on-demand content is] really about art making and what it means,” Kelleher said. 

Scenters-Zapico noted that a virtual event allows a larger audience to engage with writers, but gives artists less control over the final product.

“There are so many people involved in creating this kind of a work that it really becomes a group effort more than an individual work like writing is,” she said.

The festival will end with its trademark “Why I Write” keynote, delivered this year by United States poet laureate Joy Harjo. The last two years’ keynote speakers were science fiction author Samuel R. Delany and poet Eileen Myles.

Last year’s festival, which was organized during the pandemic, took a written form as a special issue of the Yale Review. According to the festival’s press release, the Windham-Campbell Prizes plan to reprise last year’s celebratory edition of The Yale Review with new works by 2021 Prize recipients.

All of the festival’s events are free and open to the public.

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