Creative Writing Professor Yiyun Li has been named recipient of a 2020 Windham-Campbell Prize for Fiction. The awards were announced by Damian Barr in a livestream video from London on March 19, 2020.
The Donald Windham-Sandy M. Campbell Literature Prizes at Yale University were established by Donald Windham “in a spirit of generosity, guided by his love of literature and profound sympathy for fellow writers.” The mission of the prizes is to call attention to literary achievement and provide writers with the opportunity to focus on their work independent of financial concerns. First given in 2013, past recipients include Kwame Dawes, Ishion Hutchinson, Susan-Lori Parks, John Keene, Princeton alum and playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins ’06, Teju Cole, and Adina Hoffman, among several others.
In addition to a citation and award, winners of the prizes — given in fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and drama — receive an unrestricted grant of $165,000 to support their writing.
Li, author of the acclaimed novel Where Reasons End, is lauded by the judges for the way she “masterfully explores the landscape of loss with delicacy and precision, restoring the fractured lives of ordinary people on the margins.”
Li is the author of six books, including, in addition to Where Reasons End, the story collections A Thousand Years of Good Prayers and Gold Boy, Emerald Girl; the novels The Vagrants, and Kinder Than Solitude; and an essay collection, Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life. Her work has been translated into more than 20 languages. Li was named a MacArthur Foundation Fellow in 2010 and was chosen by The New Yorker as one of the 20 fiction writers under 40 to watch. Her other awards include the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, a PEN/Jean Stein Book Award, a PEN/Hemingway Award, the Guardian First Book Award, an Asian American Literary Award for fiction, the Benjamin H. Dank Award from American Academy of Arts and Letters, Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award, and others. A Thousand Years of Good Prayers, an independent film directed by Wayne Wang and adapted by Li from her short story of the same name, was the winner of the Golden Shell for best film at the 55th San Sebastian International Film Festival.
In response to her award, Li notes:
“Writing is a solitary activity; each book is a message sent out in a bottle. And one day a phone call, coming out of the blue, tells an astonishing story of those bottles’ journey not known to the sender: they have arrived, and they are in good hands. Words cannot express my gratitude to the Windham-Campbell Prizes — your generosity and confidence will make a huge difference to my career.”
Seven other writers received awards along with Li, including Maria Tumarkin (nonfiction), Aleshea Harris (drama), Bhanu Kapil (poetry), Namwali Serpell (fiction), Anne Boyer (nonfiction), Jonah Mixon-Webster (poetry), and Julia Cho (drama). The recipients will be honored at the 2020 Windham-Campbell Prize Festival at Yale University from September 16-18, 2020.
Watch the Prize Announcement video: