On the morning of Mon., Mar. 4, Yale University conferred on nine emerging writers the Windham-Campbell Global Literary Prize. The ceremony took place within the translucent walls of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, which also administers the award. The prize, in its first year, bestowed to each of its inaugural winners an award of $150,000, totaling $1.35 million. This award joins the lineup of prestigious literary prizes offered by Yale, such as the Bollingen Prize and the Yale Series of Younger Poets.
The nine winners were split evenly among three categories: Jonny Steinberg, Jeremy Scahill, and Adina Hoffman for non-fiction; Naomi Wallace, Tarell Alvin McCraney, and Stephen Adly Guirgis for drama; and Zoë Wicomb, James Salter, and Tom McCarthy for fiction. Of the recipients of this global prize, six are from the United States, two from South Africa, and one from England. The prize was limited to English-language writers. The other requirements of the recipients are that they must have one published book (or one professionally-produced play), accept the award in person, and participate in a literary festival on the Yale campus. The festival will take place from Sept. 10–13, 2013.
President-elect Peter Salovey, GRD ’86, who presented the awards at the ceremony, said of the program, “I think what I love about this prize the most, and why I think it will play a role in world literature, is the focus on emerging writers, where recognition can make a huge difference publicly and where financial support can make a huge difference personally.”
The funding for the award came from the estate of Donald Windham, who left his fortune to Yale for the purpose of creating such a prize. In his speech at the beginning of the awards ceremony, Michael Kelleher, the director of the program, said that Windham made the donation with very few stipulations. “When he left his estate to Yale in 2010, Donald Windham made very few demands,” Kelleher said, “other than that the awards be made annually in amounts sufficient to provide the recipient with the resources to pursue his or her writing for a year without having to be concerned with outside support.”
The selection process for the award is extremely rigorous: first, a group of nominators “selected for their experience in the literary field,” according to the program’s website, choose an initial list of candidates. The prize does not accept applications or nominations from anyone other than their official nominators. Then, the nominees are judged by one of three juries (one for each category), each with three expert jurors. The finalists are then judged by the selection committee, four of which were named as life-time members by Windham’s will. The other five members are selected by the president of Yale. In the highly confidential process, the prizewinners are not aware that they have been nominated until they are told that they have won.
“[The award] allows me to not have to worry so much.” Hoffman said. “Basically, this will sustain me through most of the remnants of my books, if all goes well. So it relieves a kind of pressure, but I should say, it’s not just a financial thing, it’s also a psychological thing. It makes it easier to sit down at your desk in the morning.” Hoffman, whose work has mostly revolved around Israeli relations with the Middle East, splits her time between Jerusalem and New Haven. She described the focus of her work as “deeply involved in the life of the Middle East, in particular the lives of people who are often overlooked in more conventional accounts of what happens in the Middle East.”
“Impossible,” said Wicomb, a South African fiction writer who lives in Glasgow, Scotland, in her official press statement upon receiving the award. “For a minor writer like myself, this is a validation I would never have dreamt of. I am overwhelmed—and deeply grateful for this generous prize. It will keep me for several years, and it will speed up the writing too since I can now afford to go away when the first draft proves difficult to produce in my own house.”
As the prize concludes its inaugural year, Kelleher is looking to expand the reach of the program. “We’re going to have a literature festival here in September, and my hope is that we really are going to make this festival part of the fabric of student life here on campus.” He added, “We’re going to have a book club that runs throughout the school year; we’re going to recommend one book from each author on our website throughout the year, in the hopes that students will be encouraged to read it, and that faculty will be encouraged to put some of these books on their syllabi.”