Namwali Serpell was announced a recipient of the Windham-Campbell Prize 2020, alongside seven other writers, on Thursday, March 19, 2020.
The Windham-Campbell Prize was established with a gift from the late Donald Windham in memory of his partner of 40 years, Sandy M. Campbell in 2013. English language writers from anywhere in the world are nominated confidentially and judged anonymously for the prize worth US$165,000. It is administered by the Beinecke Rare Book and the Manuscript Library at Yale University. African winners have been Aminatta Forna (2014), Teju Cole, Helon Habila, and Ivan Vladislavić (2015), Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi (2018), and Kwame Dawes (2019).
The recipients of this year’s award have been announced at a ceremony in London, UK today with Namwali Serpell being the only winner of interest to watchers of the African literary scene. Serpell is a Zambian writer who lives and teaches in the United States. Her short story The Sack won the Caine Prize for African Fiction in 2015, and her first novel, The Old Drift, was published to global acclaim. Praised as “dazzling” by Salman Rushdie, short-listed for two Los Angeles Times Book Prizes, and long-listed for the Center for Fiction’s First Novel Prize, The Old Drift was also named one of the 100 Notable Books of the Year by the New York Times, one of the 100 Must-Read Books of the Year by Time, and a book of the year by The Atlantic, BuzzFeed, and National Public Radio. An associate professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley, Serpell is also the author of a book of literary criticism, Seven Modes of Uncertainty (2014), as well as the forthcoming essay collection Stranger Faces (2020).
Namwali Serpell said of her win, “I’m absolutely thrilled to receive this award and honoured to join the company of these esteemed writers. The Windham-Campbell Prize has proven unique in celebrating writing from Africa based solely on its literary achievement; it’s deeply gratifying to be taken seriously as an artist.”
Other recipients of this prize in a variety of artistic disciplines are Maria Tumarkin (Australia), Aleshea Harris (United States) Yiyun Li (United States), Bhanu Kapil (US/UK), Anne Boyer (United States), Jonah Mixon-Webster (United States), and Julia Cho (United States).