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Nigerian authors, @tejucole and @helonhabila win $150,000 Yale University’s Windham Campbell Prize

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Nigerian authors, @tejucole and @helonhabila win $150,000 Yale University’s Windham Campbell Prize

by Segun Odeleye

Foremost American university, Yale university, yesterday announced the nine recipients of this year’s Windham Campbell Prizes for fiction, nonfiction and drama. Three recipients were chosen for each of the three categories of fiction, nonfiction and drama.

All nine winners will each get a cheque of $150,000.

In the fiction category, all the recipients are African authors, with two of them – Helon Habila and Teju Cole – from Nigeria.

What makes the Windham Campbell prizes unique is the fact that the winners are chosen in secret. No submission process takes place, and the winners are determined confidentially “by a global group of invited nominators, a jury in each category, and a selection committee.”

The writers are chosen for a body of work or extraordinary promise.

Apart from Habila and Cole, the other fiction winner was South Africa’s Ivan Vladislavić.

The nonfiction prizes were won by Edmund de Waal, Geoff Dyer, and John Jeremiah Sullivan; while Jackie Sibblies Drury, Helen Edmundson, and Debbie Tucker Green won in drama.

Commenting on his win, Teju Cole said: “A prize jury selects for excellence, but also in service of a vision of what society’s conversation with itself should be. I’m so thrilled that the committee for the Windham Campbell Prize has included my voice in this conversation. I take encouragement from it, I’m emboldened by it, and I’m very grateful for the doors it will open.”

Also speaking, Helon Habila said, “I had heard of the Windham Campbell prize before, but never in my wildest thoughts did I ever imagine I was on their radar. It is an honour to know that one’s work is appreciated at such a level, that one’s work matters. As Shakespeare wrote: Our praises are our wages. This is the highest praise indeed, for which I am most grateful.”

The Windham Campbell Prizes were established by Donald Windham and Sandy M. Campbell to call attention to literary achievement and provide writers with the opportunity to focus on their work independent of financial concerns. The Prizes debuted in 2013.

In September, the winners will gather from around the world at Yale (where the Prizes are based), for an international literary festival celebrating their work. All events are free and open to the public.

“The Windham Campbell Prizes were created by a writer to support other writers, said Michael Kelleher, director of the program. “Donald Windham recognized that the most significant gift he could give to another writer was time to write. In addition to the recognition prestige it confers, the prize gives them just that – with no strings attached.”

Check out the bios of Helon Habila and Teju Cole below. You can view the bios of all the other winners by clicking on this link.

Teju Cole is the author of two works of fiction that radically expand our understanding of diaspora and dislocation in the twenty-first century. Cole was born in the US to Nigerian parents, raised in Lagos, and currently resides in New York City, which serves as both setting and subject of Open City (2011). The novel, which documents the roaming thoughts and encounters of a Nigerian-German psychiatrist, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and earned Cole a PEN/Hemingway Award, the Rosenthal Award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and frequent comparisons to W.G. Sebald. In Every Day Is for the Thief, published in 2007 in Nigeria and in 2014 in the US, a dual American and Nigerian citizen travels from his home in New York to Lagos and finds himself a stranger. Every Day features original photographs by the author, and was named a Book of the Year by the New York Times, the Telegraph, the Globe and Mail, and NPR. Cole is the Distinguished Writer in Residence at Bard College, photography critic of the New York Times Magazine, and is currently at work on a nonfiction book about contemporary Lagos.

Helon Habila is the author of three novels. He was Arts Editor of Nigeria’s Vanguard Newspaper when his short story “Love Poems” won the 2001 Caine Prize, garnering him international attention as one of the most exciting new voices in contemporary fiction. The story was excerpted from his first novel, Waiting for an Angel (2002), itself about a Nigerian journalist’s literary ambitions threatened by a repressive military regime. Waiting was awarded the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best First Novel (Africa Region). That year Habila was also invited to serve as the first African Writing Fellow at the University of East Anglia, and in 2006 he co-edited the British Council’s collection NW14: The Anthology of New Writing. His second novel Measuring Time (2007) won the Library of Virginia Literary Award for Fiction. In 2011, he published his latest novel Oil on Water and edited The Granta Book of the African Short Story. He is currently Associate Professor of Creative Writing at George Mason University and returns to Nigeria each summer to teach a writing workshop.

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