Zambian author Namwali Serpell has been awarded one of the world’s most lucrative literary awards – Yale’s Windham Campbell Prizes 2020. Serpell is one of the eight recipients of the annual prize.
The rest of the recipients are; in fiction, Yiyun Lee (the United States/China) alongside Serpell; in nonfiction, Maria Tumarkin (Australia) and Anne Boyer (United States); in poetry, Bhanu Kapil (United Kingdom/India) and Jonah Mixon-Webster (United States); and in drama, Julia Cho (United States) and Aleshea Harris (United States).
Serpell and her fellow winners of the prize will receive $165,000 each to support their work. She released her debut novel, The Old Drift in 2019, which tells the story of three families – with people of African, European, and Indian descent – living in Zambia for two hundred years.
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Part historical adventure, part psychological realism, part futuristic thriller, and part magical realism, the novel is an audacious, lush, sprawling, and altogether brilliant celebration of the artifice of fiction, according to the Lusaka Times.
“I’m absolutely thrilled to receive this award and honored to join the company of these esteemed writers. The Windham-Campbell Prize has proven unique in celebrating writing in Africa based solely on its literary achievement; it’s deeply gratifying to be taken seriously as an artist,” Serpell said of her recognition.
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).
The awards will be conferred in September during an annual international literary festival at Yale celebrating the honored writers and introducing them to new audiences, The YaleNews reported.
The prize program is the brainchild of lifelong partners Donald Windham and Sandy M. Campbell, who were deeply involved in literary circles, collected books avidly, and read voraciously. They penned various works, such as novels, plays, and short stories. The first prizes were announced in 2013.
The Windham-Campbell Prizes are administered by Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, which houses the Donald Windham and Sandy M. Campbell papers.
Since the prize’s inception, 67 writers representing 17 countries in Africa, Asia, Oceania, Europe, and North America have won the prize.