Eight writers win ‘freedom and time to write’ with $175,000 Windham-Campbell prizes

Deirdre Madden, Kathryn Scanlan and Hanif Abdurraqib are among the eight recipients of this year’s Windham-Campbell prizes, worth $175,000 (£140,000) each.

Madden, who is from Northern Ireland, was recognised for her eight novels, which include Molly Fox’s Birthday. The prize’s anonymous selection committee said that her works “bring to life the smallest movements of characters’ impulses and thoughts, portraying the intricacies of human lives with compassion and effortless depth”.

The prizes are awarded across fiction, nonfiction, drama and poetry. Joining Madden in the fiction category was American author Scanlan, who recently won the Gordon Burn prize for Kick the Latch, her novel about a horse trainer. “In a series of vignettes drawn from transcribed conversations between Scanlan and Iowa-born horse trainer Sonia, the reader encounters dilapidated trailers, racetracks, backs of vans, long hours, brutality, beauty and joy,” wrote Wendy Erskine in her Guardian review of the novel.

“It is clear – now, more than ever – how challenging working in the creative industries around the world can be,” said prize director Michael Kelleher. “A Windham-Campbell prize is intended to offer financial security, and through this freedom, the time and space to write, to think, to create – all without pressure or expectation.”

American writer Abdurraqib was chosen for a nonfiction prize for his cultural criticism, including A Little Devil in America: In Praise of Black Performance. Abdurraqib “turns a poet’s gaze toward cultural archives, finds grace in the kinetic energy of performing bodies, and shows us how to find joy and generosity in unlikely places”, said the selection committee.

The second nonfiction recipient is American writer Christina Sharpe, whose books include Ordinary Notes and In the Wake: On Blackness and Being. “Ordinary Notes builds upon the autobiographical foundations that Sharpe’s In the Wake opens with, comprising hundreds of entries of various lengths,” wrote poet Victoria Adukwei Bulley in the Guardian. “Both individually and in their totality these entries exemplify what it looks like to care and be cared for, to mother, to be mothered and to mourn fiercely, and at all times to bear witness: to behold and be held by what beauty persists even within the enclosure of an anti-Black world.”

The poetry prizes were awarded to Jen Hadfield and M NourbeSe Philip. Hadfield, who was born in Cheshire and now lives in the Shetland Islands, previously won the TS Eliot prize for her 2008 collection Nigh-No-Place. Philip, who is from Trinidad and Tobago and lives in Toronto, was selected for her “genre-obliterating poetry” including Zong!: As Told to the Author by Setaey Adamu Boateng.

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In the drama category, San Francisco-based playwright Christopher Chen and Ireland’s Sonya Kelly were awarded prizes. Kelly’s plays, including Once Upon a Bridge and The Last Return, “sparkle with the quirkiness of the everyday, exploding fleeting moments into lyrical revelations, as she grapples with human fragility and pathos”, said the selection committee.

The first Windham-Campbell prize recipients were announced in 2013. Past recipients include Olivia Laing, Percival Everett, Tsitsi Dangarembga and Edmund de Waal.

The Guardian