This year’s Windham-Campbell Prize recipients have been announced, honoring English-language writers all over the world at every stage of their careers. Among the honorees are playwrights Julia Cho (Aubergine, Office Hour, The Language Archive) and Aleshea Harris (Is God Is, What to Send Up When It Goes Down).
Other honorees include, for poetry, Bhanu Kapil and Jonah Mixon-Webster; for fiction, Yiyun Li and Namwali Serpell; for non-fiction, Maria Tumarkin and Anne Boyer.
“This is such an exciting group of prize recipients—so many utterly original voices from so many different places,” said Mike Kelleher, director of the prizes, in a statement. “Their work digs deeply into everything from the poisoned water crisis in present-day Flint, Mich., to the vicissitudes of the surveillance state in an Afro-futurist Zambia. To read the work of these eight writers—seven of them women—is simply overwhelming.”
Reached at her home in Los Angeles, Harris acknowleged that “it feels really weird for the announcement to come out in these particular times.” As a writer, she said she was already used to feeling isolated, and the award buoyed her at a low point. “The morning they called, I was having a really hard morning, being really melodramatic with myself—I was feeling, ‘What is the point of writing?'” To receive a literary award for her body of work, rather than an award for a particular production, she said, “is an unimaginable boost of confidence and a reminder to keep steady in those moments when you doubt. It’s a validation of the rigor. Theatres are always pushing you to move quickly, and this prize is a reminder to take the time.”
The prizes, now in their eighth year, honor eight winners in four categories, each of whom will receive $165,000. One of the richest literary prizes in the world, the Windham-Campbell Prize bestows $1.32 million each year to eight writers. Nominees are considered by judges who remain anonymous before and after the prize announcement.
The Prizes were the brainchild of lifelong partners Donald Windham and Sandy M. Campbell. The couple were deeply involved in literary circles, collected books avidly and read voraciously. They also penned various works, such as novels, plays and short stories, amongst others. For years they had discussed the idea of creating an award to highlight literary achievement and provide writers with the opportunity to focus on their work independent of financial concerns. When Campbell passed away unexpectedly in 1988, Windham took on the responsibility for making this shared dream a reality. The first prizes were announced in 2013.
In September 2020, Yale University and the Beinecke Library will host a week-long festival of events to honor the winners.