Kwame Dawes is the first University of Nebraska–Lincoln writer to win the annual Windham-Campbell Prize.
Announced live from London on March 13, the award is one of the world’s most lucrative literary honors, worth $165,000 to each winner. Judged anonymously, the prizes recognize exceptional English language writers in the areas of poetry, fiction, nonfiction and drama.
In their citation, judges said Dawes’ “visceral, memorable and urgent lyricism results in poetry of compassion, moral seriousness, and depth that resonates across continents.”
“This award was a surprise to me, and a pleasant one especially because it honors poetry,” Dawes said. “It is gratifying because in its short period of existence, the Windham-Campbell Prize has shown itself to be an award that seeks to have international importance and that celebrates what its judges deem literary excellence.
“I have little doubt about the impact that this award will have on my career as a writer.”
Dawes joined the university as the Chancellor’s Professor of English in 2011 and was named the Glenna Luschei Editor of Prairie Schooner.
Born in Ghana and raised in Jamaica, Dawes is the author of 20 books of poetry and numerous other works of fiction and nonfiction. His long list of accomplishments includes a 2004 Musgrave Medal, a 2009 Emmy Award for a multimedia documentary project on HIV/AIDS in Jamaica, and a 2012 Guggenheim Fellowship.
Dawes is a founder of the African Poetry Book Fund, which promotes the development and publication of African poetry. He is also co-founder of the Calabash International Literary Festival, and a former chancellor of the American Academy of Poets.
Other recipients the 2019 Windham-Campbell Prize are:
Fiction — David Chariandy (Canada); Danielle McLaughlin (Ireland)
Nonfiction — Raghu Karnad (India); Rebecca Solnit (United States)
Poetry — Ishion Hutchinson (Jamaica)
Drama — Patricia Cornelius (Australia); Young Jean Lee (United States).
Administered by Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, the awards were established in 2013 with a gift from the late Donald Windham in memory of Sandy M. Campbell, his partner of 40 years. The prize has no submission process, so writers are unaware that they are in the running. Writers discover they were in the running when Michael Kelleher, director of the Windham-Campbell Prizes, calls to let them know they have won.