Toronto Based Playwright Hannah Moscovitch Wins $150k Literary Prize
The Windham-Campbell Prizes today announced the annual slate of nine prize recipients that have left their mark on the world of literature and theater or have been judged by their peers as exceedingly likely to do so.
The Prizes were established in 2013 with a gift from the late Donald Windham in memory of his partner of forty years, Sandy M. Campbell. They recognize writers of fiction, nonfiction and drama from anywhere in the world who write in English. Past recipients have included the late James Salter, Naomi Wallace, and Teju Cole. In 2017, the prizes will expand to include poetry.
This year's prize recipients are, in Drama: Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, Hannah Moscovitch, and Abbie Spallen; in Fiction, Tessa Hadley, C.E. Morgan and Jerry Pinto; and in Nonfiction, Hilton Als, Stanley Crouch, and Helen Garner. Full biographies are just below.
Judged anonymously, the Windham-Campbell Prizes have no submission process. Writers are unaware that they are in the running and most are genuinely surprised when they receive the phone call from Prize Director Michael Kelleher.
"My heart's been pounding and pounding," said Ottawa native Hannah Moscovitch. "They're offering me an award and financial support so that my writing will have a future. It's a singular experience -- stunning and heartening."
Prize recipients will gather from around the world at Yale in September for an international literary festival celebrating their work. Events are free and open to the public. The New Haven campus is reachable by train in two hours from both New York and Boston.
The Windham-Campbell Prizes are administered by the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Yale University.
DRAMA / UNITED STATES
Citation: In his audacious and disarming plays, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins dismantles received ideas of race, history, and American culture.
Born in 1984 in Washington, D.C., Branden Jacobs-Jenkins has established a reputation as a versatile young playwright whose demanding and often disturbing works interrogate established notions of gender, race, history, and sexuality. His plays ricochet through time and space, leaping from a 19th-century Louisiana plantation (An Octoroon) to post-World War II Germany (War) to the Darwinian halls of a big Manhattan magazine (Gloria). In An Octoroon, first staged at the Soho Rep in 2014, Jacobs-Jenkins rewrites Dion Boucicault's 1859 melodrama The Octoroon. The play is by turns admiring and critical of its source: modern dialogue exists in counterpoint with Boucicault's nineteenth-century vernacular, resulting in a rich, strange, and wildly entertaining theatrical me?lange. In Appropriate (2014), Jacobs-Jenkins sets up a seemingly familiar domestic drama (a group of warring family members uncover a secret about their beloved patriarch) only to shift into something dark and unexpectedly subversive. Jacobs-Jenkins is a graduate of New York University, Princeton University, and the Juilliard School, as well as the winner of a Fulbright Arts Grant and the 2014 Obie Award for Best New American Play (awarded jointly for An Octoroon and Appropriate).
DRAMA / CANADA
Citation: Hannah Moscovitch fuses the intimate and the epic in fiercely intelligent plays about violence, responsibility, and redemption.
Hannah Moscovitch exploded onto the Canadian scene in 2007 with her first full-length play East of Berlin. Hailed by the press as an "angel," a "sensation," and a "wunderkind," Moscovitch has more than fulfilled this early promise, pushing herself with each subsequent work to deeper levels of emotional and intellectual complexity. While several of her plays are set in her native Ottawa, including What a Young Wife Ought to Know (2015) and Little One (2013), Moscovitch frequently turns her gaze outward, to other locations and other times. East of Berlin (2007), for instance, moves from Germany to Paraguay and back again as it tells the story of a Nazi war criminal's son. Similarly, This is War (2013) examines the engagement of Canadian forces in the volatile Panjwaii district of Afghanistan. In all of her work, Moscovitch focuses on the painful (and sometimes dangerous) ways that the past ruptures the present, and the difficult questions about responsibility and redemption that result. Moscovitch, a graduate of the National Theatre School of Canada and Playwright-in-Residence at Tarragon Theatre, was recently awarded the Trillium Book Award, the first time in that prize's twenty-seven year history that it had been awarded to a playwright.
"My heart's been pounding and pounding. I got a call from the Windham-Campbell Prizes last night. They said they've been paying attention to the work I do in silence, and they're offering me an award and financial support so that my writing will have a future. It's a singular experience -- stunning and heartening."
DRAMA / IRELAND
Citation: Abbie Spallen's plays confront audiences with all the awkward questions, reminding us with thrilling proof that theater can still be urgently necessary.
Abbie Spallen is a Northern Irish playwright whose work is haunted by the history and geography of her hometown of Newry, County Down. Spallen's Northern Ireland is a borderland of bogs, caves, hills, and marshes, a place where (despite the claims of self-serving politicians) the past is never really dead. In her political satire Lally the Scut, which premiered at Belfast's Mac Theatre in April 2015, a mother struggles to save her little boy after he falls into a bog hole. This task proves difficult for many reasons, not the least of which is her neighbors' fear that digging up the fields will uncover secrets from the Troubles. In Pumpgirl (2006), co-winner of the 2007 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, a rural gas station attendant's affair with a married race car driver takes on the proportions of a classical tragedy as it careens towards a conclusion that feels at once absurd and inevitable. Spallen has described her work as "uncomfortable theater," and while her plays are undeniably dark, there are flashes of beauty, humor, and tenderness in their depiction of life on the margins. Spallen's other plays include Strandline (2009) and Bogwog (2005). She is also the author of several screenplays and was recognized with a major grant from the Arts Council of Norther Ireland in 2014.
"I am, as we say in Ireland, 'beside myself' to receive this award. Both in monetary terms and as a recognition of my work. I do try to be brave, and I'm aware that I can produce work that may not be palatable to all. Sometimes that can feel quite the lonely pursuit. Thank you so very much. I'll stagger on. Less lonely than before."
FICTION / UNITED KINGDOM
Citation: Tessa Hadley brilliantly illuminates ordinary lives with extraordinary prose that is superbly controlled, psychologically acute, and subtly powerful.
Tessa Hadley published her first novel in 2002 at the age of forty-six. Since then, she has established a reputation as one of English's finest contemporary writers. Hadley's meticulously crafted stories explore how ordinary life is shaped by extraordinary tensions: between accident and intention, catastrophe and routine, passion and hypocrisy. Clever Girl (2013) is a complex and vivid portrait of a woman's life in the second half of the twentieth century, while her most recent novel, The Past (2016), follows a quartet of siblings on a three-week summer holiday in the old house that they have inherited. Beneath the narrative's placid surface lurks a Chekhovian darkness: layers upon layers of secrets and strains that Hadley slowly, painstakingly excavates. With her poet's sensibility and intense psychological subtlety, Hadley is, as Anne Enright has said, "the writer we didn't know we were waiting for, until she arrived." Hadley, who read English at Cambridge and holds a PhD from the University of the West of England, is a Professor of Creative Writing at Bath Spa University. She has twice been a finalist for the Orange Prize.
"I feel honoured and astonished and delighted: this generous prize will make so many things easier, it buys time and freedom. It's still marvellous to me that the words a writer dreams up in solitude can speak to strangers -- winning this is so reassuring and encouraging."
C. E. MORGAN
FICTION / UNITED STATES
Citation: In language that is lush and bold C. E. Morgan's ambitious fiction explores poverty, wealth, faith, eros, and the inextricable complications of race in America.
C. E. Morgan is the author of two novels, All the Living (2009) and The Sport of Kings (2016). In both works, Morgan presents detailed portraits of life in the rural American South, a geographical focus that she dilates to haunting narrative resonance. Her widely praised debut All the Living, set on a drought-stricken Kentucky tobacco farm in the 1980s, engages with complex social and political issues -- the crushing force of poverty, the sometimes suffocating effect of small rural communities -- while also exploring the paradoxical yearnings of faith. Her most recent novel The Sport of Kings amplifies the concerns of her first book, taking on the complicated and hazardous world of horse breeding, the life of America's rural aristocracy, and the legacy of slavery in the North and South. Morgan's themes are deeply serious, and her prose is simultaneously lush and unsparing. Angelica Baker, reviewing All the Living in Tin House, described her as writing with "all the deceptive simplicity of a poem and yet the incantatory resonance of a prayer." A graduate of Berea College and the Harvard Divinity School, Morgan has been named one of the New Yorker's "20 Under 40" as well as one of the National Book Foundation's "5 Under 35."
"I am deeply moved to be a recipient of the Windham-Campbell Prize. The generosity of this gift is astounding."
FICTION / INDIA
Citation: Jerry Pinto's writing is deeply empathetic, humorous, and humane, drawing on personal experience to tell stories much larger than the lives they contain.
Born in 1966 in Goa, India, Jerry Pinto is an editor, journalist, novelist, poet, and translator whose work explores the pains of familial and political life. He has written six books, including the poetry collection Asylum and Other Poems and Helen: The Life and Times of an H-Bomb, an award-winning biography of Bollywood actress Helen Richardson Khan. In 2012 he published his first work of fiction, Em and the Big Hoom. This semi-autobiographical novel, which Salman Rushdie called "one of the very best books to come out of India in a long, long time," tells the story of an unnamed narrator's slow, painful attempt to come to terms with his mother's bipolar disorder and suicidal tendencies. In addition to telling a persuasive coming-of-age story, Em and the Big Hoom offers an acute exploration of the impact of mental illness on intimate relationships, as well as a window into the fraught lives of the Goan Christians of Mumbai. "Love is never enough," Pinto's narrator says, "Madness is enough." Pinto's own work, however, suggests that art might offer some consolation for the insufficiencies of love.
"My first thought was: there is a God. Then there was: freedom to write. Then: that's America for you. Then: I have to sit down. Then: Me? Then: Not you, your book, dodo. Then: I am going to wake up now and will have to try and go back to sleep to recapture this moment. Then: Gosh, this is real. Then: I need a cup of tea. Then: I am a writer, I should know what to say. Then: I don't know what to say. So I think I am going to say to this guy who set up the prizes, to the University that agreed to take on this responsibility, to the Beinecke Library, to all the judges who read and discussed and recommended books, to all the logistics staff who parceled books and sent them off and everyone, to the village that makes every award possible those simple words, which should be worn out by use but are so powerful still: thank you."
NONFICTION / UNITED STATES
Citation: In brilliant, fearless essays that blend memoir, biography, and cultural criticism, Hilton Als explores and explodes our ideas of sexual and racial identity.
Born in Brooklyn in 1960, Hilton Als is a staff writer for the New Yorker, where he has been the magazine's chief theater critic since 2013. Als is the author of two acclaimed works of nonfiction, White Girls (2013) and The Women (1996). In both books, the writer takes enormous risks in content and form: his characteristic mode is a free-form essay in which biography, criticism, meditation, and memoir flow together. The pieces in White Girls, for instance, break open standard narratives of gender and race by engaging with subjects as diverse as Truman Capote, Eminem, Flannery O'Connor, and Vogue editor Andre? Leon Talley. The Women similarly combines portraits of three fascinating but tragic figures -- Als's mother Marie; the Warhol muse and socialite Dorothy Dean; and the poet and dramatist Owen Dodson -- with personal reflections about Als's childhood, adolescence, and coming-of-age as a writer. At once eclectic and focused, dense and loose, intimate and sharp, Als's writing is absorbing and ingeniously provoking. A former fellow of the Guggenheim Foundation, Als is an associate professor in the writing program at Columbia University's School of the Arts. He has also taught at Wellesley, Wesleyan, Smith, and the Yale School of Drama.
"I am gobsmacked and humbled. Essay writing is generally not known as a lucrative field; this honor allows me to continue the work I love with greater confidence -- and faith."
NONFICTION / UNITED STATES
Citation: Stanley Crouch's lyrical, sharp, and deeply American writing shines a bright light on the unexpected corners of our music, literature, culture, and history.
For more than five decades, Stanley Crouch has been an iconoclastic and polemical voice in American culture. A powerful writer in a variety of genres, Crouch has published acclaimed works of biography, cultural criticism, fiction, and poetry, including the novel Don't the Moon Look Lonesome? (2000) and the poetry collection Ain't No Ambulances for No Nigguhs Tonight (1972). Most recently, he released the first part of a planned two-volume biography of jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker, Kansas City Lightning: The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker (2013). An ambitious, decades-long undertaking, Kansas City Lightning spins out from its central concern of Parker's life, drawing on subjects as varied as Buffalo Soldiers, Al Capone, and Sherlock Holmes to sketch a portrait of America in the first half of the twentieth century. The book, like all of Crouch's work, is written in a grand Biblical style that, much like jazz itself, manages to maintain a seductive vernacular rhythm. Writing about the Kansas City jazzmen of the 1920s and '30s, Crouch proclaims: "They had seen the high and mighty get low-down and dirty, the low-down and dirty get high and mighty." Crouch's expansive vision of American culture includes both the high and low-down, the dirty and the mighty.
NONFICTION / AUSTRALIA
Citation: Helen Garner brings acute observations and narrative skill to bear on the conflicts and tragedies of contemporary Australian life.
Helen Garner is one of Australia's preeminent writers. Over the course of more than a dozen books, she has moved from fiction to nonfiction and back again, expertly blending the two forms into narratives that are intelligent, lucid, and often disturbing. Among the many themes that unite Garner's work are the fracturing of intimate relationships, the consequences of cruelty and violence, and what she describes as the "excruciating realms of human behavior, where reason fights to gain a purchase, and everybody feels entitled to an opinion." Her most recent book, This House of Grief (2014), examines a murder case in which a father was accused of deliberately drowning his three young sons by driving his car into a dam. Garner punctuates sober courtroom sketches with moments of radical authorial exposure: she is as interested in her own irrational and prejudicial responses as she is in the particulars of the alleged crime. But Garner's ruthless dissection of motivation -- both her own and that of her subjects -- does not exclude compassion. Ultimately, Garner finds truth in questions rather than in answers, in complexity rather than in simplicity, and in her own fervent belief that "there is something wild in humans."
"To be awarded a Windham-Campbell Prize for nonfiction validates in the most marvellously generous way the formal struggles that I've been engaged in over the past twenty years. It gives me the heart to keep going."