30th March, 2022
By Nehru Odeh
Nigerian writer Emmanuel Iduma has won the 2022 Windham-Campbell Prize for Non Fiction. He won the award, alongside writers who received prizes in other categories, with “I Am Still with You”, a deeply personal memoir on the aftermath of the Nigerian civil war. This year’s edition marks the 10th anniversary of one of the world’s most significant international literary awards
For the past decade, this major global prize has recognised eight writers annually for literary achievement across fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and drama, at every stage of their careers. With total prize money now exceeding $14m USD, each recipient is gifted an unrestricted grant of $165,000 USD to support their writing and allow them to focus on their work independent of financial concerns.’
Other winners include Pulitzer prize-winning Margo Jefferson, the trailblazing playwright Winsome Pinnock, and PEN Pinter prize-winning Tsitsi Dangarembga..
Announcing the awards, Mike Kelleher, Director of the Windham-Campbell Prizes, said: “Across ten extraordinary years, the Windham-Campbell Prizes have celebrated exceptional literary achievement and nurtured great talent by giving the precious gifts of time, space and creative freedom. We are proud to mark our 10th anniversary with the most exciting list of recipients yet. Led by a trailblazing group of global women’s voices, these writers’ ambitious, skilful, and moving work bridges the distance between the history of nations and a deeply personal sense of self.”
For Fiction, this year’s recipients are two Zimbabwean writers, Tsitsi Dangarembga and Siphiwe Gloria Ndlovu, who both explore their country’s history within their work. Dangarembga is a multi-award-winning novelist, playwright, filmmaker, and activist, whose debut novel Nervous Conditions was the first book to be published in English by a black woman from Zimbabwe and was named by the BBC as one of the top 100 books that have shaped the world.
In September 2020 – the same week as her novel This Mournable Body was nominated for The Booker Prize – Dangarembga was arrested during peaceful anti-corruption protests in Zimbabwe’s capital Harare, charged with intention to incite public violence: she remains on remand.
Siphiwe Gloria Ndlovu – who credits Dangarembga amongst the Zimbabwean authors who have inspired her work – was recognised with the Barry Ronge Fiction Prize for her sweeping debut exploring the colonial experience, The Theory of Flight, which sketches, through the lives of a few families and the fate of a single patch of ground, a nation’s history.
In Nonfiction, the Prize has rewarded Pulitzer prize-winning cultural critic, academic, journalist, and writer Margo Jefferson, lauded for her critically acclaimed biography, On Michael Jackson, and National Book Critics Circle Award winning memoir, Negroland, examining Black and white privilege. Nigeria’s Emmanuel Iduma, essayist, novelist, photographer, and art critic, has also been awarded a Windham-Campbell Prize for his work, including part travelogue, memoir, poetry collection, photo essay A Stranger’s Pose, which traces his travels around Africa and closes the gap between memory and imagination. Iduma’s deeply personal memoir on the aftermath of the Nigerian civil war, I Am Still with You, will be published next year.
For Drama, London’s award-winning playwright, dramaturg, and the first black British female writer to have a play produced by the Royal National Theatre, Winsome Pinnock, has been recognised. Described as ‘the godmother of black British playwrights’ Pinnock’s extraordinary canon of work offers a mesmerising and unflinching journey through British history, identity, and culture, exploring issues such as poverty and police brutality, immigration and enslavement.
Alongside Pinnock, Doris Duke Performing Artist and institution in American theatre, Sharon Bridgforth, is celebrated for her abstract theatrical jazz and performance literature, steeped in the captivating storytelling of the Black South and infused with ritual, interaction, and community.
Previous African recipients include Namwali Serpell (Fiction, Zambia/United States, 2019), Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi (Fiction, Uganda/United Kingdom, 2018), Helon Habila (Fiction, Nigeria, 2015), Teju Cole (Fiction, United States/Nigeria, 2015), Aminatta Forna (Fiction, United States/Sierra Leone, 2014), Zoë Wicomb (Fiction, South Africa, 2013), and Jonny Steinberg (Nonfiction, South Africa, .
The Prizes were the brainchild of lifelong partners Donald Windham and Sandy M. Campbell. The couple were deeply involved in literary circles, collected books avidly, read voraciously as well as penning various works. For years they had discussed the idea of creating an award to highlight literary achievement and provide writers with the opportunity to focus on their work independent of financial concerns. When Campbell passed away unexpectedly in 1988, Windham took on the responsibility for making this shared dream a reality. The first prizes were announced in 2013.
The Prizes are administered by Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, and nominees for the Prizes are considered by judges who remain anonymous before and after the prize announcement. Recipients write in the English language and may live in any part of the world.
Here are the recipients of the 2022 ‘10th Anniversary’ Windham Camobell Prize and their profiles
– Tsitsi Dangarembga (Zimbabwe) – fiction
– Siphiwe Gloria Ndlovu (Zimbabwe) – fiction
– Margo Jefferson (United States) – nonfiction
– Emmanuel Iduma (Nigeria) – nonfiction
– Winsome Pinnock (United Kingdom) – drama
– Sharon Bridgforth (United States) – drama
– Wong May (Ireland/Singapore/China) – poetry
– Zaffar Kunial (United Kingdom) – poetry
Tsitsi Dangarembga (Zimbabwe)
Across the more than three decades of her career, Tsitsi Dangarembga has emerged as one of the most significant voices in world Anglophone literature. She is the author of three award-winning and critically acclaimed works of fiction: This Mournable Body (2018), The Book of Not (2006), and Nervous Conditions (1998). The novels, collectively known as the “Tambudzai trilogy,” tell the story of a young Shona woman named Tambudzoi (“Tambu”) as she moves between worlds: that of her parents, who are impoverished subsistence farmers; and that of her relatively affluent, British-educated aunt and uncle, who run a missionary school.
Stretching from late 1960s pre-independence Rhodesia to the postcolonial Zimbabwe of the 1990s, Tambu’s coming-of-age intersects with that of her country in compelling and often tragic ways. As she strives to build and sustain a meaningful adult life for herself, Tambu wonders whether the very qualities that first allowed her to imagine an existence unconstrained by systems of racism and sexism—ambition, intelligence, and a bright, seething rage—have been lost in the seeking: “When you were young and in fighting spirit, growing mealie cobs in the family field and selling them to raise money for your school fees, you were not this person you have become. When and how did it happen?”
Dangarembga is also a filmmaker and serves as 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. The winner of the PEN International Award for Freedom of Expression (2021), she lives in Harare, Zimbabwe.
“I have been waiting for this all my life, not always believing but constantly hoping. This award gives me space to dream.”
Siphiwe Gloria Ndlovu (Zimbabwe)
Siphiwe Gloria Ndlovu is a Zimbabwean filmmaker and scholar, as well as the author of two critically acclaimed novels: The History of Man (2020) and The Theory of Flight (2018). The Theory of Flight, which won the 2019 Barry Ronge Fiction Prize, fuses together a range of histories and registers into a distinctive, moving, and provocative whole.
The novel tells the story of Genie, a visionary who flies in both literal and metaphorical senses, and her father, a freedom fighter and eccentric who is trying to build an airplane to bring his Dolly Parton-lookalike wife to Nashville. A richly-textured meditation on colonial history and civil war, The Theory of Flight is also a magical realist novel of great wonder and a sweeping multi-generational family saga.
In her second novel, The History of Man, Ndlovu continues to explore nationhood and personhood, charting the violently destructive effects of settler-colonialism on both. She is an artist who dares to imagine her own mysterious realms, while never avoiding the devastating realities of the world in which we live.
Ndlovu holds a PhD in Modern Thought and Literature from Stanford University, as well as master’s degrees in African Studies and Film from Ohio University. She has published research on Saartjie Baartman and she wrote, directed, and edited the award-winning short film Graffiti. She is a recipient of a 2018 Morland Writing Scholarship and of a 2020 Writing Fellowship at the Johannesburg Institute for Advanced Study (JIAS).
Margo Jefferson (United States)
Born in 1947 in Chicago, Illinois, Margo Jefferson is a book and theater critic, a former staff writer for the New York Times and Newsweek, and the author of several books of nonfiction. In both her short criticism and her longer works, Jefferson displays a storyteller’s grace: the power to transform any subject—no matter how difficult or diffuse—into a cohesive, compelling narrative.
Her first book, On Michael Jackson (2006), offers a masterful analysis of how Jackson’s life and career disrupted conventional understandings of gender, race, and mental illness. Jefferson’s debut memoir, Negroland (2015), takes up similar questions in the context of her own experiences as a member of Chicago’s postwar Black elite. For Jefferson “Negroland” is a realm both physical—a world of medical school classrooms, social clubs, and theaters—and psychological, a state organized by strict rules about appearance and decorum.
Through a delicate combination of anecdote and argument, Jefferson shows us that the citizens of “Negroland” know that what they have can be revoked at any time, for almost any reason: Black privilege, unlike white privilege, “can be denied, withheld, offered grudgingly and withdrawn.”
The recipient of a National Book Critics Circle Award (2016), a Guggenheim Fellowship (2008), and a Pulitzer Prize (1995), among many other honors, Jefferson is a Professor of Professional Practice in Writing at Columbia University. Her second memoir, Constructing a Nervous System, will be published by Pantheon in April 2022.
‘Thrilled, in this case, is an understatement! I couldn’t be happier. Blissful is the word.’
Emmanuel Iduma (Nigeria)
Emmanuel Iduma is a Nigerian writer, editor, and photographer. The co-founder of Saraba (2009-2019), a non-profit literary magazine dedicated to publishing emerging writers in Nigeria and other parts of Africa, Iduma is also the author of two books, the novel The Sound of Things to Come (2016) and the nonfiction work A Stranger’s Pose (2018).
A Stranger’s Pose blends several genres—memoir, photo essay, and travelogue—to evoke the rhythm of Iduma’s wanderings around the African continent. We follow him from Rabat to Yaoundé to Addis Ababa and back again. With each section, the book provokes and resists expectations of linearity, moving forward only to loop back, leaping ahead only to pause and linger.
Again and again, Iduma draws our attention to what is absent, or odd, or unfamiliar. He considers photographs of dead relatives, drafts of unsent emails; he observes, with great care, how people walk, what they wear, and how they talk. Like Emerson’s “transparent eye-ball,” Iduma achieves a kind of unselving; nothing, he discovers, is too small or too strange for his notice.
“The gift I received,” he writes, “was the freedom to come to terms with my own estrangement.” His essays and art criticism have been published in Granta, the New York Review of Books, Aperture, n+1, and Artforum, among other places. I Am Still with You, his memoir on the aftermath of the Nigerian civil war, is forthcoming from Algonquin (US), and William Collins (UK) in March 2023.
‘It was a stunner, and still is, to be informed of the award of a prize of such magnitude and pre-eminence, 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.’
Wong May (Ireland/Singapore/China)
Wong May’s poems exhilarate and excoriate, each precisely chosen word arriving as a surprise on the white space of the page. Her four collections—Picasso’s Tears (2014), Superstitions (1978), Reports (1972), and A Bad Girl’s Book of Animals (1969)—reveal a mind at brilliant and unceasing work: engaged with history, dismissive of patriarchal pieties, plainly sensual, and darkly funny. Born in China, raised in Singapore, educated in the United States, and now living in Ireland, Wong May has a transnationalist vision, her reference points ranging from Li Qingzhao to the English Romantics, Simone Weil to Dora Maar, her mother’s imperious deathbed demands for Häagen-Dazs to the “58 Chinese ‘nationals’ [who] breathed / Their last with packed tomatoes / In a sealed van from Zeebrugge to Dover.”
In her omnivorous engagement with the world, Wong May fractures the line not just between the personal and the political but between languages, nations, and traditions. Again and again, she writes herself into places where certainty frays. In so doing, she expands our sense of what poetry might be, and do. She recently turned to translating classical Chinese poets. In the Same Light: 200 Tang Poets for Our Century, is published b Carcanet Press and Song Cave; it is the Poetry Book Society Spring 2022 Translation Choice.
‘This is a complete surprise, & miraculous coming from America! I have gone underground with my poetry for 40 years.’
Zaffar Kunial (United Kingdom)
A native of Birmingham, England, Zaffar Kunial is the author of one full-length poetry collection, Us (2018), which was shortlisted for both the Costa Poetry Award and the T. S. Eliot Prize. In Us, Kunial, the son of an English mother and a Kashmiri father, takes his own identity as his central subject. The poet’s “unfixed” self becomes a lens through which to investigate—sometimes with pain, sometimes with joy, always with provocation—the unfixedness of the world.
Taking us along on a taxi ride in Pakistan, looking with us at the rhododendron bushes in the country of his own birth, “that edgeland of central England,” Kunial’s deeply felt poems insist on the value of confusion and uncertainty, the rapture of being lost—and, perhaps fleetingly, found: “The whole field, meanwhile, waiting for me / some astronaut or lost explorer, to emerge with a wave / that brings the ball / like time itself to hand. A world restored.”
Kunial’s poems offer us a world, if not restored, then re-visioned; cast under the glow of his luminous words, we see the formerly mundane—a DNA test, a spider tree, a cricket field, a butterfly—as if for the first time. Kunial is also the author of the chapbook Six (2014), published as part of the Faber New Poets series. The winner of the Geoffrey Dearmer Prize (2014) and the Northern Writers’ Award (2013), he has been a poet-in-residence for the Brontë Parsonage and the Wordsworth Trust and now lives in Shipley, Yorkshire.
‘I’m still rubbing my eyes at the news, and at the thought that my slim book made it through the judging process – one I didn’t know was happening at all – my world feels wider and kinder. I’m the most pleasantly shocked I’ve ever been.’