Professor Kwame Dawes is among the eight recipients of the 2019 Windham-Campbell Prizes, which, at $165,000 for each winner, is one of the richest literary prizes in the world. The Ghanaian-Jamaican-American poet, most recently the author of City of Bones (2017), was honoured alongside fellow poet Ishion Hutchinson (Jamaica); the fiction writers Danielle McLaughlin (Ireland) and David Chariandy (Canada); the nonfiction writers Raghu Karnad (India) and Rebecca Solnit (United States); and the dramatists Young Jean Lee(United States) and Patricia Cornelius (Australia). Dawes—co-founder & editor-in-chief of African Poetry Book Fund (APBF), editor of Prairie Schooner, and Professor of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln—is now the eighth African writer to receive the prize, following wins by the South Africans Zoe Wicomb, in fiction, and Johnny Steinberg, in nonfiction, in 2013; the Sierra Leonean-Scottish Aminatta Forna, in fiction, in 2014; the Nigerians Teju Cole and Helon Habila and the South African Ivan Vladislavic, all in fiction, in 2015; and the Ugandan Jennifer Makumbi, in fiction, in 2018.
Established in 2013 “with a gift from the late Donald Windham in memory of his partner of 40 years, Sandy M. Campbell,” and administered by the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University, the $165,000 Windham-Campbell Prizes recognizes writers in the fields of fiction, poetry, drama and nonfiction “for their literary achievement or promise,” as a way “to support their writing.” The 2019 recipients were announced live in London at Stationers’ Hall, at an event hosted by the writer and playwright Damien Barr.
In an email to Brittle Paper last year, the Prize Director Michael Kelleher, whom we interviewed in 2017, stated that only writers working in the English language are eligible and “are nominated confidentially and judged anonymously. The call that Prize recipients receive from [the] program director is the first time that they have learned of their consideration.”
The prize citation underlines how “Kwame Dawes’s visceral, memorable, and urgent lyricism results in a poetry of compassion, moral seriousness, and depth that resonates across continents.”
“This award was a surprise to me, and a pleasant one especially because it honors poetry,” said Dawes, who won Poets & Writers’ Barnes & Noble Writers for Writers Award in 2011. “It is gratifying because in its short period of existence the Windham-Campbell Prize has shown itself to be an award that seeks to have international importance, and that celebrates what its judges deem literary excellence. I have little doubt about the impact that this award will have on my career as a writer.”
Here is his bio on his citation:
Kwame Dawes is a critic, editor, and poet born in Ghana and raised in Jamaica. The author of twenty books of poetry and numerous other works of ﬁction and nonﬁction, Dawes is profoundly inﬂuenced by the aesthetic, intellectual, and political traditions of the Afro-Caribbean diaspora. His debut poetry collection Progeny of Air (1994) dramatizes issues of home and migration, innovation and tradition, freedom and entrapment. He has continued to investigate and deconstruct these binaries in later work, revisioning the Biblical story of Esau and Jacob in Jamaica (Jacko Jacobus ), for instance, and imaginatively explores racism and segregation in mid-twentieth century South Carolina (Wisteria ).
Dawes is a daring ventriloquist with a polymathic intelligence, and his expansive body of work shows lyric mastery, narrative force, and a profound sense of the historical and geographic roots of poetry. Among his many awards and honors are the Forward Prize for Poetry (1994), a Pushcart Prize (2001), the Musgrave Medal (2004), and a Guggenheim Fellowship (2012).
A founder of the African Poetry Book Fund, co-founder of the Calabash International Literary Festival, and a former Chancellor of the American Academy of Poets, he is currently the Glenna Luschei Editor-in-chief of Prairie Schooner and a Chancellor’s Professor of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
The awards will be given in September at an annual international literary festival at Yale meant to celebrate the honoured writers and introduce them to new audiences.
Find out more about the other winners on Yale News.
Brittle Paper congratulates Professor Kwame Dawes.