The US-Based Windham-Campbell Prizes Name 2021 Recipients

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Supporting recipients with $165,000 grants, the Windham-Campbell Prizes honor critical thinkers in fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and drama.

Vivian Gornick, the feminist memoirist, critic, and essayist, a writer of personal narrative, in her workspace. At 85, she has been named a recipient of the Windham-Campbell Prize. Image: WHP

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

An Awards Program Founded in 2013
One of the most interesting things about the Windham-Campbell Prizes is that when the program’s director, Michael Kelleher, calls a writer to announce that she or he has been selected to receive an unrestricted US$165,000 grant, he starts by saying,  “I don’t know if you’re aware of the Wyndham-Campbell Prizes.”

You see this in an engaging video made from this year’s notifications. We’ll embed that video for you below.

And eight years after being established, despite its relatively low profile, the program—administered by the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale—remains faithfully focused on “calling attention to literary achievement and providing writers with the opportunity to focus on their work independent of financial concerns.”

As is the case with the much better known MacArthur Fellowship program, there’s no application process for this potentially life-pivoting honor. Nor is the extensive nomination format visible to nominees. Several stages of invitational work by some 60 nominators and a cohort of jurors results in a slate of eight Wyndham-Campbell laureates, two in each of four categories: nonfiction, fiction, poetry, and drama.

Those getting that call from Kelleher informing them that they’ve been awarded a grant can be English-language writers at any stage in a career. They can be based anywhere in the world. They need to have had at least one book published or one professionally staged play. And they can be nominated “for a body of work or for outstanding promise.”

This year’s recipients come from Canada and Trinidad and Tobago; the United Kingdom and The Netherlands; Canada and Saint Lucia; and the United States. They join formerly honored recipients including Rebecca Solnit, Suzan-Lori Parks, Lucas Hnath, Tessa Hadley, James Salter, Stanley Crouch, Teju Cole, Aminatta Forna, Jim Crace, and Cathy Park Hong.

Wyndham-Campbell Prize 2021 Recipients

Windham-Campbell Prizes 2021 recipients are, upper row from left, Canisia Lubrin (image: Clea Christakos-Gee); Dionne Brand (image: Clea Christakos-Gee); Kate Briggs (image: Sarah Tulej); and Michael R. Jackson (image: John Balk). On the lower row, from left, are Natalie Scenters-Zapico (image: John Markadakis); Nathan Alkan Davis (image: Benjamin Kanes); Renee Gladman (image: Josh Libatique); and
Vivian Gornick (image: Josh Libatique)

  • Vivian Gornick (United States): nonfiction
  • Kate Briggs (United Kingdom/Netherlands): nonfiction
  • Dionne Brand (Canada/Trinidad and Tobago): fiction
  • Renee Gladman (United States): fiction
  • Canisia Lubrin (Saint Lucia/Canada): poetry
  • Natalie Scenters-Zapico (United States): poetry
  • Nathan Alan Davis (United States): drama
  • Michael R. Jackson (United States): drama

Brief descriptive information about each recipient follows, and we’re quoting the program’s organizers  at Yale here:

“For nonfiction, this year’s recipients are 85-year-old New Yorker Vivian Gornick—a critic, essayist, journalist, and memoirist whose 1987 work Fierce Attachments was described by The New York Times as the best memoir of the past half-century—and translator Kate Briggs, whose beautiful debut The Little Art explores the nature and stakes of literary translation, the relationship between writers and their translators, and the role of this practice in everyday life.

“The two experimental writers recognized for fiction cross literary disciplines: the multi-award winner and former poet laureate of Toronto, Dionne Brand, whose most recent novel Theory affirmed her position as a literary tour de force; and linguistic risk-taker Renee Gladman, best known for her critically acclaimed Ravickian quartet, which nods to Samuel Beckett and Anne Carson. 

“In poetry, the prize has celebrated Canisia Lubrin, whose ambitious and original work draws attention to the issues that define our human experience with a focus on power dynamics, Black history, and Black futurities, together with Natalie Scenters-Zapico, who draws on her experience of growing up in the territory between Mexico and the United States to create politically and personally charged work focused on borders. 

“For drama, Michael R. Jackson—who won last year’s Pulitzer Prize for Drama with his professional debut A Strange Loop—has been recognized as the prize’s first music theater recipient, alongside the highly lauded playwright Nathan Alan Davis, whose work represents both an experiment in form and a continued investigation of what it means to be Black in America.”

Kelleher: ‘Original and Intensely Moving Work’

Windham Campbell Prizes 2021 recipient Rene Gladman is a prose writer and visual artist. Image: WCP

In announcing these eight recipients, Kelleher says, “Through original and intensely moving work that challenges what we think we know about genre and style, these extraordinary writers cast a forensic eye on the issues that make us human: our identity, our history, our cultural and political experiences. We are incredibly proud to recognize and celebrate such exceptional literary talent.”

You’ll find more information about each of these recipients on the programs site.

Donald Windham, an Atlanta-born Guggenheim Fellowship recipient, was a friend of Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams, and was associated with Lincoln Kirstein and Paul Cadmus, among others in the New York-based cultural mix of the mid-20th century. Windham and Sandy Campbell met in 1943 when Campbell, an actor and a model for Cadmus, was at Princeton.

Windham, a writer, was read by Thomas Mann and Paul Bowles. As William Grimes recalled in his obituary of Windham in The New York Times, EM Forster wrote an introduction to Windham’s short-story collection, The Warm Country.

Campbell died in 1988, Windham in 2010. Before his death, Windham arranged for his estate—including the fortune he’d inherited from Campbell—to be used by Yale to endow the prize program. The Beinecke on Yale’s Hewitt Quadrangle houses the papers of both Windham and Campbell.


More from Publishing Perspectives on publishing and literature awards is here. More from us on the Windham-Campbell Prizes is here. 

More on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's 2019 International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson also has worked as a senior producer, editor, and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA, and as an arts critic (National Critics Institute) with The Village Voice and Dallas Times Herald. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.

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