The Windham-Campbell Prizes: Then and Now 

Design by Cleo Maloney

Read the accompanying profiles of this year’s festival participants here.

When Donald Windham—an author better known for being friends with Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote than for anything he wrote—died in 2010, he endowed tens of millions of dollars to create a prize for English-language writers and a literary festival to celebrate the prizewinning writers. Windham never went to college and had no connection to Yale whatsoever, but he decided that the Beinecke would be the best place to award the prizes. The Windham-Campbell prizes, named for Windham and his life partner Sandy Campbell, give the ability to write for a year unrestricted by financial concerns; each prize comes with $165,000, which individually would be one of the largest literary prizes in the world. Windham-Campbell gives out eight prizes each year.

In a ceremony at the YUAG lecture hall Monday night, President Peter Salovey presented the tenth annual Windham-Campbell prizes to eight writers: playwrights Sharon Bridgeforth and Winsome Pinnock, novelists Siphiwe Gloria Ndlovu and Tsitsi Dangarembga, nonfiction writers Margo Jefferson and Emmanuel Iduma, and poets Zaffar Kunial and Wong May.

The awards process is a long one. Nominations for the prizes are made by an anonymous group of 60 people. An anonymous jury of 12 people studies the nominations and refers some of them to a mostly anonymous selection committee of 9 people. Awards are usually announced in March — in 2020, those awards were announced right as COVID shut everything down. As a result, the 2020 and 2021 editions of the festival were virtual.

Back in person, the festival is now bigger than ever. Festival conversations happened in the YUAG, the bunker chic lecture hall in the YCBA, and some chairs set up by the Audubon bibles on the second floor of the Beinecke. This year, the festival also built a large tent on the College Street side of Cross Campus, where they had free coffee each morning with readings by the prize recipients.

Past prize winners include Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins, whose 2017 play Everybody was performed by the Yale Dramat last February; Suzan-Lori Parks, whose play Topdog/Underdog was ranked as the best play written since 1993 by the New York Times; and Rebecca Solnit, who coined the term “mansplaining” in her essay “Men Explain Things to Me.” 

Leave a Reply