Eight writers awarded Yale’s Windham-Campbell Prizes

Yale University announced on March 29 the eight recipients of the 2022 Windham-Campbell Prizes, marking the 10th anniversary of one of the world’s most significant international literary awards. The writers, whose works explore the personal as well as complex issues of history, politics, and culture, were honored for their literary achievement or promise. Each will receive $165,000 to support their work.

The prize recipients are in fiction, Tsitsi Dangarembga (Zimbabwe) and Siphiwe Gloria Ndlovu (Zimbabwe); in non-fiction, Margo Jefferson (United States) and Emmanuel Iduma (Nigeria); in drama, Winsome Pinnock (United Kingdom) and Sharon Bridgforth (United States); and in poetry, Wong May (Ireland/Singapore/China) and Zaffar Kunial (United Kingdom).

Across 10 extraordinary years, the Windham-Campbell Prizes have celebrated exceptional literary achievement and nurtured great talent by giving the precious gifts of time, space, and creative freedom,” said Michael Kelleher, director of the Windham-Campbell Prizes. “We are proud to mark our 10th anniversary with the most exciting list of recipients yet. Led by a trailblazing group of global women’s voices, these writers’ ambitious, skillful, and moving work bridges the distance between the history of nations and a deeply personal sense of self.”

The awards will be conferred in person during an annual international literary festival at Yale, planned for Sept. 19 to Sept. 22, which will feature a keynote address by Natasha Trethewey, who served two terms as Poet Laureate of the United States.

Administered by Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, the awards are conferred annually to eight authors writing in English anywhere in the world. Eighty-three writers representing 21 countries across the globe have received the prizes since they were first awarded in 2013. Writers can be awarded the prize during any stage of their careers.

Prize recipients are nominated confidentially and judged anonymously in four categories: nonfiction, fiction, poetry, and drama. The recipients don’t know they are being considered for the prize until Kelleher contacts them about the judges’ decision.

I have been waiting for this all my life, not always believing but constantly hoping,” said Tsitsi Dangarembga, the author of three celebrated novels collectively known as “the Tambudzai trilogy.” “This award gives me space to dream.”

Fellow fiction recipient Siphiwe Gloria Ndlovu has authored two critically acclaimed novels: “The History of Man” (2020) and “The Theory of Flight” (2018).

Margo Jefferson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning book and theater critic, and a former staff writer for The New York Times and Newsweek, has authored several nonfiction books, including “On Michael Jackson,” her 2006 analysis of how the pop-music superstar’s life and career disrupted conventional understandings of gender, race, and mental illness.

Emmanuel Iduma is the co-founder of “Saraba,” a nonprofit literary magazine dedicated to publishing emerging writers in Nigeria and other parts of Africa that was published from 2009 to 2019. He has authored two books, the novel “The Sound of Things to Come” (2016) and the nonfiction work “A Stranger’s Pose” (2018), which blends several genres — memoir, photo essay, and travelogue — to evoke the rhythm of Iduma’s wanderings around the African continent.

It was a stunner, and still is, to be informed of the award of a prize of such magnitude and pre-eminence, to be listed alongside many writers I look up to,” Iduma said. “I am filled with gratitude to the Beinecke Library and remain keen with hope for the paths now made possible for me to tread.”

Poet Wong May was born in China, raised in Singapore, educated in the United States, and now lives in Ireland. She has published four collections of distinctively experimental poetry over a career spanning six decades. Her most recent collection of hers, “Picasso’s Tears,” appeared in 2014, ending a literary absence of more than 40 years.

Zaffar Kunial has published one full-length poetry collection, “Us” (2018), which was shortlisted for both the Costa Poetry Award and the TS Eliot Prize.

I’m still rubbing my eyes at the news, and at the thought that my slim book made it through the judging process — one I didn’t know was happening at all — my world feels wider and kinder,” Kunial said. “I’m the most pleasantly shocked I’ve ever been.”

Winsome Pinnock developed a reputation as a visionary playwright over 40 years through plays — including “Tituba” (2016), “Mules” (1996), and “The Winds of Change” (1987) — that demonstrate her commitment to taking formal risks and to asking difficult questions about the role of art in shaping cultures and institutions.

The poet-playwright Sharon Bridgforth’s work reimagines the possibilities of the Black avant-garde, drawing equally from the oral storytelling traditions of the rural South, Yoruba theologies, and improvisational jazz to create audience-centered experiences that expand beyond the theater’s physical space to conjure new practices of art, community, history, and spirituality.

I am receiving this award with wide open arms, humbling crumbling with gratitude — calling the names of those on whose shoulders I stand, those that have loved and guided me, those known and unknown who are my champions,” Bridgforth said. “I am on my knees reciting today’s prayer. Thank you!”

The prize program is the brainchild of lifelong partners Donald Windham and Sandy M. Campbell, who were deeply involved in literary circles, collected books avidly, and read voraciously. They penned various works, such as novels, plays, and short stories. For years, the couple had discussed creating an award to highlight literary achievement and provide writers with the opportunity to focus on their work independent of financial concerns. When Campbell died unexpectedly in 1988, Windham took on the responsibility for making this shared dream a reality.

Biographies of the recipients and additional background on the prizes available on the Windham-Campbell Prizes website.

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