Introduction

Ten Years of the Windham-Campbell Prizes

Michael Kelleher
and
Meghan O’Rourke

The thrill of reading great writing happens when language meets feeling and changes the way we think forever. We don’t know why it has this effect or necessarily how to reproduce it, but when it happens, we know it.

Often we bestow a literary prize upon these works, calling the winner “the best.” One can love great writers equally for different reasons, however, without ever caring about which one is “the best.” When Donald Windham established the Donald Windham–Sandy M. Campbell Literature Prizes in honor of his lifelong partner Sandy Campbell, whose money he had inherited, it embodied this spirit. Unlike most literary prizes that pit writers against each other, Donald Windham wanted us only to find them, celebrate their accomplishments, and support their future work.

There was an extraordinary spirit of generosity in his gift. In his will, he spoke of “warmth” as a value, and then he did something donors almost never do: he left the decisions about how and to whom to give the prizes up to the people who managed them. It is the rare person who gives large amounts of money without asking for something significant in return.

Unlike most literary prizes that pit writers against each other, Donald Windham wanted us only to find them, celebrate their accomplishments, and support their future work.

And so the Windham-Campbell Prizes were born. A decade, eighty-three writers, and more than thirteen million dollars later, we’re celebrating our tenth anniversary with yet another extraordinary group of writers from around the world.

There is no winner. There are eight uniquely wonderful writers. We celebrate them all. As we have done since 2020, the Windham-Campbell Prizes and The Yale Review have collaborated to do so in the pages of The Yale Review, another space where we celebrate writers’ diverse minds and aesthetics. In the pages that follow, you will find work from this year’s winners but also a sampling from former Windham-Campbell Prize recipients who were kind enough to share new work with us. We invite you to a festival in print, in the hopes that you will relish these words now and in the years to come.

essays

The Rest of the Story Remembering childhood

Carolyn Forché

A Faceless Compass Johannesburg’s haunted streets

Ivan Vladislavić

Tender Light The stories photographs tell

Emmanuel Iduma

Remembering Benares How a city inspired a novel

Pankaj Mishra

The Path to River See Improvisation and ancestry

Sharon Bridgforth

Bottle Torches A fantasia on Nari Ward

Ishion Hutchinson

Reclaiming Tituba What The Crucible left out

Winsome Pinnock

Case Studies A critic tracks herself

Margo Jefferson

fiction

Jana Dives

Tsitsi Dangarembga

The Postman

Siphiwe Gloria Ndlovu

poetry

After the Biopsy

On Hearing News of Another Shot Black Man

Kwame Dawes

The Flight

The Toll

John Jeremiah Sullivan

Watershed

The Last Word

O'er

Zaffar Kunial

The Anabasis of Godspeed

Ishion Hutchinson

The Lawn

Chickens

Remembering the World

Wong May

The Flood

Cathy Park Hong

Translation

Carolyn Forché

Threnody

Lorna Goodison

interview

Geoff Dyer On not having a career

James Surowiecki

Michael Kelleher is the program director of the Windham Campbell Prizes.
Meghan O’Rourke is the author of the New York Times bestseller The Invisible Kingdom: Reimagining Chronic Illness and The Long Goodbye, as well as three collections of poetry. The recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Radcliffe Fellowship, and a Whiting Nonfiction Award, she resides in New Haven, where she teaches at Yale University and is the editor of The Yale Review. @meghanor
Originally published:
December 6, 2022

Featured

A Faceless Compass

Johannesburg’s haunted streets
Ivan Vladislavić

Case Studies

A critic tracks herself
Margo Jefferson

Geoff Dyer

The essayist on not having a career
James Surowiecki

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