Zambian-American author Namwali Serpell is one of the eight authors awarded the 2020 Windham-Campbell Prizes. At $165,000 per winner, the prize is one of the richest literary prizes in the world.
The 2020 prize is largely dominated by women. Seven out of the eight are women. Serpell was honored for fiction alongside Chinese-American author Yiyun; Australian author Maria Tumarkin and American author Anne Boyer for non-fiction; British-Indian poet Bhanu Kapil and American poet Jonah Mixon-Webster for poetry; and American dramatists Julia Cho and Aleshea Harris for drama.
Serpell, who most recently won the Brittle Paper Award for Essays and Think Pieces, is now the ninth 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; the Ugandan Jennifer Makumbi, in fiction, in 2018; and the Ghanaian-Jamaican-American poet Kwame Dawes, in poetry, in 2019.
Serpell is known for her debut novel The Old Drift, a multi-generational and genre-bending novel exploring Zambia’s colonial history.
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 2020 recipients were announced online from London by writer and playwright Damien Barr and Michael Kelleher, director of the Windham-Campbell Prizes.
Speaking about the 2020 recipients, Mike Kelleher said: “This is such an exciting group of prize recipients—so many utterly original voices from so many different places. Their work digs deeply into everything from the poisoned water crisis in present-day Flint, Michigan to the vicissitudes of the surveillance state in an Afro-Futurist Zambia. To read the work of these eight writers—seven of them women—is simply overwhelming.”
The prize citation notes Namwali Serpell’s work as ‘exploring themes of identity and belonging.’
Serpell shared the news on twitter:
[WARNING! UNCORONATED CONTENT! PERVERSELY GOOD NEWS IN A TIME OF GENERAL CRISIS!]
Thrilled and honored to be a recipient of a 2020 Windham-Campbell Prize in fiction, alongside the inestimable Yiyun Li. pic.twitter.com/kMfVuF3NGv
— Namwali Serpell (@namwalien) March 19, 2020
The awards will be conferred in September during an annual international literary festival at Yale celebrating the honored writers and introducing them to new audiences.
Find out more about the other winners on Yale News
Brittle Paper congratulates Namwali Serpell!