[The JRB Daily] ‘You have changed my life!’ Three African writers among the winners of the 2022 Windham–Campbell Prizes

Header image: Siphiwe Gloria Ndlovu, Tsitsi Dangarembga and Emmanuel Iduma.

The winners of the 2022 Windham–Campbell Prizes have been announced, including three African writers: Siphiwe Gloria Ndlovu, Tsitsi Dangarembga and Emmanuel Iduma.

Now in its tenth year, the Windham–Campbell Prize is one of the world’s richest literary awards. The prizes honour English language writers from anywhere in the world for their ‘literary achievement or promise’. Each winner will receive $165,000 (about R2.3 million) to support their work.

The large grants—$1.32 million given to eight writers—are intended ‘to support their writing and allow them to focus on their work independent of financial concerns’.

Previous African winners include Jonny Steinberg (2013, non-fiction), Zoë Wicomb (2013, fiction), Aminatta Forna (2014, fiction), Teju ColeHelon Habila and Ivan Vladislavić (all 2015, fiction), Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi (2018, fiction), Kwame Dawes (2019, poetry) and Namwali Serpell (2020, fiction).

2022 Windham–Campbell Prize winners

  • Sharon Bridgforth (Drama, United States)
  • Winsome Pinnock (Drama, United Kingdom)
  • Siphiwe Gloria Ndlovu (Fiction, Zimbabwe)
  • Tsitsi Dangarembga (Fiction, Zimbabwe)
  • Emmanuel Iduma (Nonfiction, Nigeria)
  • Margo Jefferson (Nonfiction, United States)
  • Zaffar Kunial (Poetry, United Kingdom)
  • Wong May (Poetry, Ireland/Singapore/China)

Zimbawean author Tsitsi Dangarembga’s writing career spans three decades, with her ‘Tambudzai trilogy’ of novels: Nervous Conditions (1988), which won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize (Africa Region); The Book of Not (2006); and This Mournable Body (2018), which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. Dangarembga is also an activist, filmmaker, director of the Institute of Creative Arts for Progress in Africa Trust, executive director of Women Filmmakers of Zimbabwe, and founding director of the International Images Film Festival for Women. In 2021 she won the PEN International Award for Freedom of Expression.

The prize citation describes Dangarembga’s fiction as ‘groundbreaking’, adding that her work ‘brings to stunning life the ongoing struggles of African women striving for agency in the face of colonial, racist, and patriarchal forces’.

Dangarembga said:

I have been waiting for this all my life, not always believing but constantly hoping. This award gives me space to dream.

Ndlovu is a Zimbabwean filmmaker and scholar, as well as the author of two critically acclaimed novels: The Theory of Flight (2018), which won the 2019 Barry Ronge Fiction Prize, and The History of Man (2020). The prize citation describes her as ‘both a chronicler and a conjurer whose soaring imagination creates a Zimbabwean past made of anguish and hope, of glory and despair: the story of the generations born at the crossroads of a country’s history’.

On receiving the award, Ndlovu said:

‘You have changed my life! One day, I will have words to speak of this, but for now all I have are thanks.’

Nigerian writer, editor, and photographer Emmanuel Iduma, the third African winner on the list, is the co-founder of non-profit literary magazine Saraba (2009–2019), and the author of two books, the novel The Sound of Things to Come (2016) and the nonfiction work A Stranger’s Pose (2018). I Am Still With You, his memoir on the aftermath of the Nigerian civil war, is forthcoming in 2023.

‘In elegant, meditative vignettes that integrate art criticism, canny observation, and lyrical dispatches,’ the prize citation reads, ‘Emmanuel Iduma invites readers to physically and spiritually observe the expansiveness of the world and its people.’

Iduma said:

‘It was a stunner, and still is, to be informed of the award of a prize of such magnitude and preeminence, to be listed alongside many writers I look up to. I am filled with gratitude to the Beinecke Library and remain keen with hope for the paths now made possible for me to tread.’

The prize was established in 2011, with the first prizes presented in 2013. It is administered by the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, and endowed from the combined estates of writer Donald Windham and actor Sandy M Campbell, lifelong partners who were deeply involved in literary circles, and wished to establish an award ‘to highlight literary achievement and provide writers with the opportunity to focus on their work independent of financial concerns’.

Prize recipients are nominated confidentially and judged anonymously. Winners are not aware they are being considered for the prize until they receive a call from prize director Michael Kelleher.

And you can watch those conversations here:

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