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Yale awards nine writers its inaugural Windham Campbell Literature Prizes

Yale University announced the inaugural set of winners of its Windham Campbell Literature Prizes Monday morning at a press conference in the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library at the university.  Nine writers--three fiction writers, three playwrights, and three nonfiction writers--were awarded $150,000 each by an anonymous panel of distinguished judges drawn from across the literary arts with the objective of rewarding excellence in established and emergent English-language literature.

The nine prizes--among the most lucrative in the English-speaking literary world--were established this year by Yale with a bequest from the estate of novelist and memoirist Donald Windham, who died at age 89 in 2010, and his partner Sandy M. Campbell, an actor and writer, who died in 1988.  As with the annual MacArthur Foundation Fellowships in the arts, sciences, and humanities, the nomination process for the Windham Campbell prizes is confidential, and the recipients of the awards have no prior knowledge that they are under consideration for the honor.

“We hope to make this a truly global writer’s prize,” said Michael Kelleher, the Windham Campbell Prizes  Program Director. “Fifty-nine writers from around the globe were nominated, including from India, Pakistan, Jamaica, New Zealand, Australia, Trinidad & Tobago, South Africa, the U.S., and the U.K.”

Prior to joining the staff of Yale University last April, Kelleher was Artistic Director of Just Buffalo Literary Center, where for the previous fourteen years, he was the driving force behind organizing Just Buffalo's highly successful BABEL Series lectures featuring international authors and the popular BIG NIGHT Series of readings, performances, and multi-media events.

This inaugural year's winners, which were announced by Yale President-elect Peter Salovey at the press conference, range from 33 to 87 years of age, and span from revered figures in American fiction to relatively unknown writers whose published work shows extraordinary promise for the future.  “Those we recognize this year are artists of the first order, and it is truly exciting to provide these authors with the means to develop their work in ways that will benefit all of us who love to read. We are all indebted to Donald Windham and Sandy Campbell for having created this legacy,” said Salovey. 

The winners in fiction include:

--Novelist James Salter, the oldest of the awardees and perhaps the best known, for his 1956 Korean War U.S. Air Force pilot novel "The Hunters" and a string of subsequent novels including "A Sport and a Pastime" (1967),  "Light Years" (1975),  and "Solo Faces" (1979), as well as the PEN/Faulkner Prize-winning story collection "Dusk and Other Stories (1989).  You can read The Paris Review's  Summer of 1993 (Issue No. 127) interview with James Salter (The Art of Fiction No. 133) at http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/1930/the-art-of-fiction-no-133-james-salter.

--English novelist, writer, and conceptual artist Tom McCarthy, author of “Remainder” (Metronome Press, 2005), a debut novel which dealt with questions of trauma and repetition, “Men in Space” (Alma Books, 2007), set in Central Europe during the collapse of communism, and “C” (Alfred A. Knopf, 2010) , a novel set in the early 20th century that explores the relationship between melancholia, violence and the emergent radio technology of the era.  The latter novel was a finalist for the Booker Prize.  McCarthy visited Buffalo this past November to read in the University at Buffalo English Department's Exhibit X Fiction Series at Hallwalls.

--South African writer Zoë Wicomb, author of  the apartheid era collection of stories "You Can’t Get Lost in Cape Town" (1987), and the post-apartheid novels "David" (2000) and "Playing in the Light" (2006).  An Emeritus Professor at Strathclyde University in Glasgow, Scotland much of her critical writing focuses on Postcolonial theory and South Africa writing and culture. 

The winners in drama were: 

--Stephen Adly Guirgis, the American playwright, screenwriter, director, and actor who serves as co-artistic director of New York City's LAByrinth Theater Company.  Guirgis' plays, including "The Motherf**ker with the Hat," "Jesus Hopped the A Train," "Our Lady of 121st Street," "The Last Days of Judas Iscariot," "In Arabia We'd All Be Kings,"  "The Little Flower of East Orange," and "Den of Thieves" have been performed throughout the United States and on five continents. Buffalo's Road Less Traveled Productions staged an enormously successful run of Guirgis' "The Last Days of Judas Iscariot" in the spring of 2011, with the playwright himself along with actor Stephen McKinley Henderson attending RTLP's Spring Gala as guests of honor.

--Tarell Alvin McCraney is an award-winning American playwright best known for his trilogy, The Brother/Sister Plays: "The Brothers Size,"  "In The Red and Brown Water," and "Marcus; Or The Secret Sweet."  They have been performed at McCarter Theater in Princeton, The Public Theater in New York, Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago, at a trio of theaters in the Bay Area: Marin Theatre Company, ACT, and Magic Theatre, as well as the Young Vic in London (Olivier Award nomination) and around the world. Other plays include "The Breach" (Southern Rep, Seattle Rep), "Wig Out!" (Sundance Theatre Institute, Royal Court, and Vineyard Theatre - GLAAD Award for Outstanding Play), and "American Trade" (Royal Shakespeare Company/Hampstead Theatre).

--Naomi Wallace is a playwright, poet, and screenwriter from Prospect, Kentucky whose plays include "In the Heart of America," "Slaughter City," " One Flea Spare," "The Trestle at Pope Lick Creek,"  "The Fever Chart: Three Visions of the Middle East, " and a stage adaptation of William Wharton's novel "Birdy" that was produced on the West End in London. In 2009, One Flea Spare was incorporated into the permanent répertoire of the French National Theater, the Comédie-Française.   Among the awards her plays have received are the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize (twice), Joseph Kesselring Prize, Fellowship of Southern Writers Drama Award, Obie Award ("One Flea Spare") and the 2012 Horton-Foote Award for most promising new American play. She is previous a recipient of the MacArthur Fellowship and a National Endowment for the Arts development grant.

The 2013 Windham Campbell awardees in nonfiction were:

--American essayist, critic, and literary biographer Adina Hoffman, the author of "House of Windows: Portraits from a Jerusalem Neighborhood" (2000) and her 2009 life and times of the Palestinian poet Taha Muhammad Ali, "My Happiness Bears No Relation to Happiness: A Poet’s Life in the Palestinian Century."  She is also the author, with Peter Cole, of "Sacred Trash: The Lost and Found World of the Cairo Geniza," which was awarded the American Library Association’s Brody Medal for the best Jewish book of 2011.  Hoffman has been a visiting professor at Wesleyan, Middlebury, and NYU, as well as the Franke Fellow at Yale’s Whitney Humanities Center. 

--Jeremy Scahill is National Security Correspondent for The Nation magazine and author of the international bestseller Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army (2007). He has reported from Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, the former Yugoslavia and elsewhere across the globe. Journal. Scahill’s work has sparked several Congressional investigations and won some of journalism’s highest honors. He was twice awarded the prestigious George Polk Award, in 1998 for foreign reporting and in 2008 for his book Blackwater. Scahill is a producer and writer of the film "Dirty Wars," which premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. His latest book is "Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield," published by Nation Books.

--Jonny Steinberg is a South African writer, scholar and author of a number of books about everyday life in South Africa’s transition to democracy. Two of these books, "Midlands" (2002), about the murder of a white South African farmer, and "The Number" (2004), a biography of a prison gangster, won South Africa’s premier nonfiction award, the Sunday Times Alan Paton Prize. Steinberg’s other books include "Three-Letter Plague," which chronicles a young man’s journey through South Africa’s AIDS pandemic and was a Washington Post Book of the Year,  and "Thin Blue" (2008), an exploration of the unwritten rules of engagement between South African civilians and police.  His most recent book "Little Liberia: An African Odyssey in New York" (2011) was about the Liberian civil war and its aftermath in an exile community in New York City.  A forthcoming book about the journey of Somali boy across the length of the African continent will be published in 2014.  Steinberg has a doctorate in political theory from Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar and is currently a lecturer in African Studies. He is also a columnist for the Sunday Times in South Africa. A collection of his columns, "Notes From a Fractured Country," was published in 2007.

The sole obligation of the Windham Campbell Prize winners is to accept their awards in person at a ceremony scheduled for September 10th in Yale's Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library.  A literary arts festival involving several of the awardees of the Windham Campbell Prizes is scheduled for September 10-13 on the Yale University campus and in the greater New Haven community.

--R.D. Pohl

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