The Golden Phone Call: Eight Writers Handed $165,000 Each by Windham-Campbell

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The generous Windham-Campbell Prize is giving writers from the UK, Canada, Jamaica, Uganda, and the USA a chance to ‘to focus on their work independent of financial concerns.’

Clockwise from upper left, the 2018 winners of the Windham-Campbell Prize are Lucas Hnath, Suzan-Lori Parks, Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi, Lorna Goodison, John Keene, Sarah Bakewell, Olivia Laing, and Cathy Park Hong. Images: Windham-Campbell

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘The Feeling Is Magical’

When the caller ID reads “Michael Kelleher,” pick up the phone.

Kelleher is the director of the Windham-Campbell Prize, established in 2013 through a gift from Donald Windham in memory of his partner Sandy M. Campbell.

And when that phone rings, it’s the first time a recipient of the award has any idea that he or she is under consideration. What the writer hears from the other end is that she or he has won US$165,000 (£118,775 for those being paid in British currency).

This year’s eight recipients are to officially receive their awards at Yale in September, having been nominated confidentially and juried anonymously.

Michael Kelleher

As Kelleher is quoted saying in press materials, “The day I make the call to notify award recipients is the highlight of the year, as each cycle I hear how much of a difference it will make for them.

“Six years on, we can now [begin] to see the impact the prizes have on these writers’ lives, careers, and their work. The feeling is magical.”

The awards single out work in fiction, nonfiction, dramatic literature, and poetry and can go to writers working in English anywhere in the world.

Here is this year’s group of eight winners, with jury commentary as provided to the media.


  • John Keene (USA), “with coruscating imagination, language and thought,  experiments with concealed scenes from history and literature, stepping outside the confines of conventional narrative.”
  • Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi (Uganda/UK) “opens up a bold and innovatory vista in African letters, encompassing ancient wounds that disquiet the present, and offering the restitution to be found in memory and ritual.”


  • Sarah Bakewell (UK) “unknots complex philosophical thought with verve and wit; her eye for detail and her animated conversation bring readers to inhabit the lives of great philosophers.”
  • Olivia Laing (UK) “is a cartographer of human emotion, mixing memoir, biography and critical engagement with an acute sense of place; through the arts, she searches the depths of the self.”


  • Lucas Hnath’s (USA) “agile writing ranges across genres and subjects with voracious curiosity; his wit, formal daring and poetic precision crystallize dramas that are socially incisive and indelible.”
  • Suzan-Lori Parks (USA) “is an artist whose ethical imagination confronts rather than consoles; she acknowledges in the fissures of language and human relations the complexities of a fraught world.”


  • Lorna Goodison (Canada/Jamaica) “draws us into a panoramic history of a woman’s life, bearing witness to female embodiment, the colonial legacy, mortality, and the sacred.”
  • Cathy Park Hong’s (USA) “exhilarating and surprising language connects us to unheard migrant voices, and her searching look at dystopic states gives her poetry urgent power.”

Below is the tape of the 2017 Windham-Campbell Lecture, which was given on September 13 by Karl Ove Knausgård at Yale.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. Prior to that he was Associate Editor for The FutureBook, a channel at The Bookseller focused on digital publishing. Anderson has also worked with CNN International,, CNN USA, the Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and other media.

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