Theater faculty member and award-winning playwright Nathan Alan Davis has been named recipient of a 2021 Windham-Campbell Prize for Fiction. The awards, announced March 22, are among the world’s most significant and generous literary prizes.
In 2019 Davis was named a Roger S. Berlind ’52 Playwright-in-Residence at Princeton University. Over the past several years he has taught introductory playwriting and other literary courses in Lewis Center programs, while mentoring and encouraging student-artists as he continued to develop his own body of work. Davis’ work was commissioned in 2017 for The Princeton and Slavery Plays, part of the Princeton and Slavery Project. In 2018 the LAB at McCarter Theatre Center, in conjunction with The Public Theater, presented his work Protect the Beautiful Place. His new drama, The Refuge Plays, was set to run at the Berlind Theatre at McCarter Theatre Center in spring 2020, unfortunately canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Davis’s other plays include Nat Turner in Jerusalem (New York Theatre Workshop; Stavis Playwright Award), Dontrell Who Kissed the Sea (NNPN Rolling World Premiere; Steinberg/ATCA New Play Citation), and The Wind and the Breeze (Cygnet Theatre; Blue Ink Award, Lorraine Hansberry Award). His play The High Ground is upcoming at Arena Stage. Recent honors include The Lark’s Venturous Playwright Fellowship (2021-22), a Steinberg Playwright Award (2020), a Sundance at Ucross Fellowship (2019), and a Whiting Award in Drama (2018). He is developing new work with Seattle Rep, Indiana Rep, True Love Productions, Audible, and BMG Music. Davis is an alumnus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Indiana University Bloomington, and The Juilliard School.
Administered by Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, the prize program is the brainchild of lifelong partners Donald Windham and Sandy M. Campbell and was established in a spirit of generosity, guided by their 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. Conferred annually to eight authors writing in English anywhere in the world, prize recipients are nominated confidentially and judged anonymously. First given in 2013, past recipients include Kwame Dawes, Ishion Hutchinson, Susan-Lori Parks, John Keene, Princeton creative writing professor Yiyun Li, Princeton alum and playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins ’06, Teju Cole, and Adina Hoffman, among several others.
In addition to a citation and award, the prize winners — whose work explores matters both personal and political in fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and drama — receive an unrestricted grant of $165,000 to support their writing.
The judges note Davis as “an artist whose work fuses depth of feeling and love of language, balancing the profound, the prosaic, and an overwhelming desire to reach through the fourth wall and pull his audiences towards him.”
In response to his award, Davis notes:
“To have my work thought of and honored in this way means more than I can say. This is a truly life-changing moment; I am profoundly thankful.”
Learn more about Davis and his work “trying to write a better future” in a short video created by the Windham-Campbell Prizes.
Seven other writers received awards along with Davis, including Michael R. Jackson (Drama), Dionne Brand (Fiction), Renee Gladman (Fiction), Kate Briggs (Nonfiction), Vivian Gornick (Nonfiction), Canisia Lubrin (Poetry), and Natalie Scenters-Zapico (Poetry). Biographies of all the recipients are available on the Windham-Campbell Prizes website.
Usually, the recipients would gather on the Yale University campus in the fall to receive their prizes and participate in a literary festival with the local community. Due to the pandemic, the fall 2021 festival will consist of online events with the recipients and a keynote address by U.S. poet laureate Joy Harjo. Readers will have the chance to engage with the prize recipients’ writing and perspectives when their work is published in a special edition of The Yale Review.